Tag Archives: travel

Back in America 385 Days Later



385 days after saying good-bye to our German Exchange Student… we are welcoming her back to America! What a fast year plus 20 days it was! If you don’t already know the story, Lara came to us in August 2011 for the 2011-2012 school year at age 15 and in 10th grade. She left us June 2, 2012 at age 16.  She was home for a just couple days when she told her family she wanted to come back to America for her next summer break. Oh, how time flies! It went so fast that I figured the blog was still active so I’d start writing again. I initially started the blog to document my experience of being a Host Mother who was responsible for another woman’s daughter halfway around the world… and for a keepsake for Lara’s, and our, experience! Almost two years since the blog started and we have had more than 11,000 hits! A link for the blog is also on the website for the Exchange Company Lara used for her trip here so students can read about her experience. Lara also volunteers there by helping other students prepare for a similar journey to America. You can read the very first blog here: https://lifewithlara.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/the-exchange-experience-a-host-mothers-view/

1001176_10201421529129353_687189846_nSo…385 days later… we are back at the airport with most of the same friends who were there when she left,  We waited impatiently for 90 minutes until she came out of the International arrival doors. She was welcomed with a banner and everyone yelling, “LARA!!” We were definitely the largest group there to welcome someone at the airport!

385 days later… Lara’s room at the house remains intact. When we returned home from the airport, Lara quickly went to “her room.” It’s a little different than it was when she left but I made sure some items were left in place, like her Bible that she decoupage with the YoungLife kids still resting on a shelf, her old school notebooks on the desk and some of her pottery she made in Clay Class. In the closet were some clothes she decided to leave here, like her Homecoming dress!

20130622_194926385 days later… Lara’s friends are still giggling with her, telling old stories and ready for a night of swimming in the pool after a BBQ.  Some things never change! Brittany, Morgan, Gabby, Erin, Addy, Charlie and Jack were in and out of the pool for most of the evening, along with our son, Travis, and his girlfriend, Rubyann. Then they had to make the traditional trip to Ocean Blue, a yogurt shop around the corner, was a must-do, followed by a movie. It was certainly a late night and a long journey for Lara after 15 hours on planes and jet lag!

385 days later… I realize nothing has really changed since Lara left. Social Media helped us all keep in touch almost every day. I’ve been texting with Lara at least 3 to 4 times a week through WhatsApp, a phone application that’s free texting. We can send photos, videos or record our voices too.  Of course, we’ve Skyped about every other month and had fun sharing things on Facebook and Instagram. Brittany, and has kept in touch with Lara a lot through SnapChat, along with Morgan and Gabby.

SAM_0836385 days later… it’s like Lara never left. Everything is in the same place in the house… some furniture has moved around or is missing but it’s still “home” to her. As I write this, she’s back in the pool on the rafts and playing with the dogs! When she got to the house, she walked right in and checked out the pantry, some of the cabinets in the kitchen, the fridge. She’s just like anyone else in the house and knows I won’t do everything for her. She’s on her own and has to make herself at home again.

385 days later… I’m back to planning some trips with Lara. During her 10 month stay we visited Washington DC, New York City, went on a Baja Mexico Cruise and to Los Angeles and Disneyland. Somehow… we never made it to the Grand Canyon. I know… pretty sad on my part, right? So… a trip to the Grand Canyon is in order. I’m also taking her to “small town America” for the 4th of July. It’s just too hot in Phoenix to do anything so we’re headed up to cool country and Prescott, Arizona for a carnival, live music, fireworks and an Arts and Crafts Show. A trip to Las Vegas is in the works, staying at Mandalay Bay where there’s a beach and lazy river. Lara met her mother in Vegas for a couple days towards the end of her stay in America but I’d like to take her to see some other sights there with Brittany. And if we still have time…we might make it to the beaches of San Diego and Sea World.

385 days later… I can see it’s definitely going to be an action-packed and busy summer! And of course, I’ll document our reunion along the way right here!


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Seeing her mom for the first time in 9 months


This is a big day for Lara! She gets to see her mother for the first time since mid-August when she arrived in America to be an exchange student! It’s been a long 9 months in which they have both experienced major changes in their life being apart!

Lara’s mother arrived in San Francisco, California. She will drive to Los Angeles, where she will pick up Lara at the airport! I wish I could be there for the reunion! They will spend a couple days in Los Angeles and then drive to Las Vegas where Lara will stay for a couple days. We were never able to make the trip to Las Vegas with Lara so I’m glad she wil be able to see it! For some reason, it’s a place where many foreigners like to visit! After all, they see it on TV and in Movies all the time! Lara will then return to Phoenix in time to take a couple of final exams and spend her final days at the High School she has called home for 9 months!

On May 29th, Lara’s mother and her friend will arrive in Phoenix, after a week visiting National Parks and other sites. They will stay with us and I am so excited to meet Lara’s mom! On May 31, we will have Lara’s Going Away Party and then on June 2, Lara and her mother leave for Germany on separate plans just a few hours apart!

It’s going to be a busy two weeks because Lara will be taking her actual driving classes with a German instructor and getting her license as well! I’ll be sure to share all the moments!

NYC Day 2-Ground Zero and Statue of Liberty


Our first full day in New York City and we visited the two most important “American” sites… Ground Zero and the State of Liberty!

Since we stayed next to the subway terminal in New Jersey by the Holland tunnel, there were only two routes out of the Newport Station…one to 33rd St and 5th Ave in Manhattan, the other to the World Trade Center. And yes… that’s what the subway sign still says: “World Trade Center”. After all, it still is…and always will be… the World Trade Center…even after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

We hopped on the subway and, in just 10 minutes, we were in the middle of a construction zone… where 3,000 workers are building One World Trade Center. Construction began in April 2006. So far, they’ve reached the 41st floor. It was cloudy so the top of the building was surrounded by clouds. It was very surreal. Lara and Brittany loved the view and the low clouds and all the excitement around the area!

When completed, One World Trade Center will soar above the city at 1,776 feet and be America’s tallest building. The 2.6-million-square-foot building will include office space, an observation deck, world-class restaurants, and broadcast and antennae facilities. You can read more about the project and follow it’s progress at http://www.wtc.com/about/freedom-tower.

We wanted to see the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero that was dedicated recently at the 10-year Anniversary of the attacks but couldn’t get tickets till Mid-December. We would have had to register for tickets in July to get in mid-October. But we still wanted to get close to the Memorial to see something. That’s where our journey began. We were directed to walk around the massive construction project, which was surrounded by a tall fence and blue tarps. The path took us to a couple of other places we did not expect.

The first unexpected stop has become my favorite place in New York City. It’s St. Paul’s Chapel. I get goosebumps and tears in my eyes even as I write about what we experienced there. The girls were silent as they entered and toured the site. It is directly across the street from the World Trade Center Towers… and remains Manhattan’s oldest public building, opened in 1766. You can see a historic timeline athttp://www.trinitywallstreet.org/history/timeline.  It’s where George Washington worshiped and… where 9/11 recovery workers received round-the-clock care. There’s a lot of history in this one small area. As a part of the Episcopal Parish of Trinity Church, St. Paul’s still offers a daily worship called “Prayers for Peace” from 12:30p-12:45p. It’s also become a Memorial for 9/11 and a place that tells the story

On September 11, 2001, St. Paul’s Chapel remained standing when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. Although the churchyard and church were filled with debris and dust, there was no physical damage to the building. From September 2001 to May 2002, St. Paul’s Chapel opened its doors to firefighters, construction workers, police officers, and others for meals, beds, counseling, and prayer. Local people posted cards, letters and photographs of missing loved ones on the rod-iron fence around the church. Impromptu altars remain inside the Chapel today. Others from around the world sent cards, letters, drawings, flags, and other memorials to St. Paul’s. More than one million people visit each year to learn about the ministry that took place there.

One display holds teddy bears and notes that were left at the Chapel after 9/11. Another display holds badges from police and firefighters that were sent from around the world. And another has the type of bed that was set up for rescue workers. The pews had to be removed from the center of the church to hold more workers. They’ve saved one pew to show how it was scarred and worn after rescue workers, with heavy equipment, were using them as beds. As we walked outside, the girls agreed it was a very moving tribute to 9/11.

Outside, St. Paul’s is surrounded by a churchyard with gravestones and memorials, some from Revolutionary War days. Another highlight is the Bell of Hope, given as a gift by its sister church St. Mary-le-Bow in London in September 2002, to commemorate the Chapel’s mission after 9/11. You can learn more about the Chapel at http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/congregation/spc/. For a complete timeline of 9/11 events and the church: http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/news/features/911-timeline.

We left the church and continued down the street to our second unexpected site… Wall Street and the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors. The streets were congested. There were police officers, construction workers, tourists, protestors and the media. Yes, it resembled a circus. It was still a peaceful demonstration so we moved forward. Of course, the girls asked what the people were protesting. We gave them as good an answer as we could. Since the movement is still in formation, and I’d rather not get into the “politics” of it all… we told them it was people who are unhappy with the economy and think the people on Wall Street can do something about it. Period.

We finally reached the 9/11 Memorial Entrance where those with admission tickets were able to go inside. We assumed if we walked around the site a little more, we could get a glimpse of the Memorial. Somewhere, Anywhere. Just a tiny glimpse. But we weren’t having any luck. We finally walked up a stairway to a catwalk for pedestrians to avoid the construction. There is where we found one window, just one, where we could get a partial view of the Memorial. We were a little disheartened.  We understand that

there’s a lot going on in that area but we thought there’d be at least one overlook where visitors could get an overall picture of the Memorial. We accepted what we were able to see and thankful that St. Paul’s Chapel was able to provide us with the history and memorial that it did.

It was time to head back to New Jersey via the subway, then the Light Rail by our hotel (Courtyard Marriott Newport), so we could take the Ferry to the Statute of Liberty. Talk about a vacation filled with public transportation! (By the way, THAT’S being saved for another Blog Post, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles!”).

The Ferry took us to Ellis Island first. What an amazing place of history! The 27-acre site can probably connect with more of the American population than any other spot in the country. The museum is located in the Main Building of the former immigration station complex and tells the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924. It’s estimated that nearly half of all Americans can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island to become an American. Now, almost a century since the peak years of immigration, Ellis Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the National Park Service.

We walked the stairs where immigrants were separated when they entered…and the Great Hall where they waited for their inspection. If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the inspection process lasted three to five hours. The museum’s exhibits show Ellis Island’s role in immigration history and include artifacts of items left behind or that were found in trunks, like clothing and shows. There are also hundreds of photographs of families arriving. In many cases, just one person from the family came to America and then others arrived months later. The American Immigrant Wall of Honor® is a special feature of the Ellis Island museum and overlooks the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline.  It is the longest wall of names in the world, paying tribute to America’s cultural heritage and contains more than 700,000 names inscribed by family members and friends. You can see more history about Ellis Island at http://www.ellisisland.org.

Next…the Statue of Liberty! As the Ferry got closer, everyone was standing up taking pictures of Lady Liberty by herself… or with family members in the forefront. It was such an awesome sight! Once on the island, we grabbed headphones for our audio tour. Lara was laughing through most of it because she got the German audio tour and said there was a heavy accent from the speaker. Apparently there is a difference in accents between north and south German cities… just like the north and south States in America. We took plenty of pictures as we walked all around the statue!

We snapped the pictures just in time because as we headed back to the Ferry, a huge storm came through, dropping heavy rain and it was blowing sideways! There was no escaping getting wet! You can see how wet we got by the photos below! And it was COLD!!! And to top that off… we had to walk a mile from the Ferry to the Light Rail… with a little more rain and in soaking wet clothes! Funny as it sounds… we used the blow dryer in the hotel room to warm us up before heading to the Shopping Mall across the street for dinner! Definitely something we will always remember…and are still laughing about to this day!!!

More pictures below!

THE NEXT POST…. our final day in New York City with trips to Rockefellar Plaza and Central Park!


We will never forget.

9/11 displays

St. Paul's Chapel

One World Trade Center

Family that Immigrated

Tired at Ellis Island

Skyline view from Statue!

Caught in the rain

Caught in the rain

Caught in the rain

NYC Day 1-Times Square-WOW!


From DC to NYC!!!

Our next adventure on our East Coast tour with our German Exchange Student and our daughter… was New York City! A first for all of us… and what an AMAZING experience!!!

Our Host, Troy, took us to Union Station in Washington, DC, to catch the Bolt Bus to NYC! It was the first time for all of us to be in a major Train station, so that was another new experience! And for just $19 per person and a non-stop 4-hour ride…it was the best mode of transportation to get to Midtown Manhattan! (In another post, I’ll share our “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” vacation stories!)

Courtyard Marriott Newport, NJ

From the bus station in Manhattan, we took a taxi to our hotel on the edge of New Jersey, just over the bay from lower Manhattan. For anyone who has never been there, the Courtyard Marriott Newport was a perfect spot to stay! All hotels in Manhattan were $500-$1000/night! OUCH!!! And many of them did not accommodate 4 people, only 2. So, the Courtyard, at $215/night was considered a bargain. Better yet… it was nice, clean, great service and right next to the Subway Terminal that had two trains that go right into Manhattan!

Once we got settled in… the girls couldn’t wait to get back into the city… and see all the glitz and glamour they’ve seen and heard about in Times Square…. not to mention the SHOPPING!!! We had to walk just a few blocks from the last subway stop and….. OH MY GOSH….when we turned the corner… there it was… Times Square!!! Lit up like the 4th of July! At night, it looked like it was the middle of the day! Electronic billboards flashing everywhere! Signs several stories high on the side of buildings! Tons of people walking along sidewalks like a bunch of little ants at a picnic!!! And, oh yes…. the sound of taxis honking at each other! It was crazy! And we felt so “comfortable”! Everyone in Times Square was from somewhere else and everyone was taking pictures of everything!  We were laughing the whole time!!! (More photos below)


“Formerly named Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in April of 1904 after the Times Building (the onetime home of The New York Times) at 42nd Street and Broadway. Later that year the first electrified advertisements started to appear. With the advent of the new subway system the area grew as the city was rapidly expanding northward and Time Square found itself in the center of what was becoming a hub of entertainment and upscale institutions.

Sometimes known as the “Crossroads of the World,” it has become a focal point for tourists from all over the world and is renowned for its spectacular digital advertisements that line the main corridors along Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The former New York Times headquarters, now known as One Times Square, at 42nd St. and Broadway, is the staging area for the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop. It is a tradition that began in 1908 and is visited every year by hundreds of thousands of spectators.”

Forever 21

Before we even left Arizona for our trip, Brittany and Lara had Googled Forever 21 in Times Square! They knew EXACTLY where the 4-story megastore was located. And…as you may have read in a past blog post from Washington DC… they were determined to scour this store too to see which one was REALLY bigger! The answer is… the Times Square store! And… according to me and Terry… this one was a ZOO!

We hung out on the main floor…while the girls disappeared quickly into the racks and racks of clothes. We “people watched”. So many different styles and people walking in and out! There were two security guards at the entrance, the music was blaring and there were no pictures allowed. Well… they weren’t allowed as long as the security guards were watching. Of course, Brittany and I snapped a few!

Interactive Forever 21 Screen

One way to attract attention in Time Square… have one of the biggest signs…and one that’s interactive! Check this out! Above the Forever 21 store, there is a huge screen and a camera takes a live picture of the crowd. So everyone is standing around, waving at the sign to see where they are. It’s pretty funny! See if you can find us! (I’ll tell you where we are at the end of the post!)

Toys R Us

Of course, there’s nothing like a Toys ‘R Us with a Ferris Wheel inside…so, we just had to go inside! The girls didn’t ride…they’re a little too old for that… but we did admire the whole concept of having an amusement ride inside a store. Only in New York City would we see something like this! One area we were fond of was the Barbie section! Look at all the pink in the pictures at the end of this post!!! The girls reminisced about playing Barbie’s when they were little! So cute!

Disney Store

Lara’s mom in Germany collects Mickey Mouse so the Disney Store, right by Toys R Us and Forever 21, was a must-see! Mickey everywhere! And so hard to make a decision on what to get Lara’s mom! I can’t tell you what she got because she reads the Blog and then it wouldn’t be a surprise!

But we did get this picture of Lara with a Mickey as a Statue of Liberty! Adorable!

More pictures below.

Tomorrow’s Post: Our visit to Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty!


Red Stairs at Times Square

Forever 21 screen: We were the bottom left quarter of the screen. Here's a close up!

Final Day in DC-Waterfalls and Air Museum


By Day 4 in the DC area, we were ready to avoid the 45-minute drive into DC and take in a little nature! So, Troy, our Host and good friend, suggested we take a trip to Great Falls National Park. His friend, Anna, suggested we visit another Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum that’s by Dulles International Airport. I wasn’t too sure how the girls would like the Museum but it turned out… these were both great suggestions!

Great Falls National Park, Virginia

The beautiful 800-acre park is only 15 miles from the Nation’s Capital.  The Falls are created when the Potomac River builds up speed and force, as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. Three overlooks give different views of the Great Falls.

History: The Patowmack Canal offers a glimpse into the early history of this country. Back in Virginia, the Potomac presented physical obstacles to travel. Narrow and winding in places, it drops over 600 feet in 200 miles from Cumberland to sea level. Spring rains swell the river to dangerous heights and summer droughts make it impassable. To make the river so it could be navigated by boats, the Patowmack Company had to dredge portions of the riverbed and create five areas of falls. The most demanding task was building a canal with locks to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac. Roaring over the rocks, the river drops nearly 80 feet in less than a mile.

We used the Park and backdrop for some great photos… and some silly ones. The nice ones are at the end of the post. The funny ones are coming up in another Blog Post!!!

National Air & Space Museum: The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

This was our next stop and it is HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUS! It’s a MUST on your to-do list when in the DC area! It’s the companion facility to the Smithsonian Air Museum on the National Mall in DC but located in a large Boeing Aviation Hangar to hold more artifacts! It opened in December, 2003, and has enough space for the Smithsonian to display the thousands of aviation and space artifacts that cannot be put on display on the National Mall site. The two sites together showcase the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world.

The Center was named in honor of its major donor. Aircrafts are displayed on three levels, hanging from 10-story-high trusses. The centerpiece of the space hangar is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The girls loved this area and spent a lot of time in here. And it is huge! It was fun to see the other space artifacts including an astronauts suit, and gloves, the Gemini VII space capsule and the Mobile Quarantine Unit used upon the return of the Apollo 11 crew.

The Observation Tower was a cool attraction. We went up 7 stories high to watch air traffic at Dulles Airport, just a mile or so away. It also offered great pictures of the Fall colors which we don’t get a lot of here in Phoenix. The girls were snapping away on their cameras! (More photos at the end of this post)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
A movie that was filmed on location is always a big interest to teenagers! The film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, was filmed in part at the Udvar-Hazy Center. It features the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird as Jetfire, a wise, elderly, former Decepticon (an evil Transformer) turned Autobot (a good Transformer). This exhibit case includes historic Transformers toys, aviation- and Jetfire-related characters, and props used in the film….and a clip of the film playing so visitors could see exactly where it was filmed. It was fun to see the girls pointing and reacting to the film saying, “Wow, they were standing right here, and here, and here!” A link about the movie is http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1055369/

More Photos below from this day!


Lara and The Ladies Travel Club Go German!


A Social Group for Ladies who love to travel!

When you are a member of a Ladies Travel Club…and you have a German Exchange Student in your home…it just makes sense that a visit to a German Restaurant gets on the calendar!

The Ladies Travel Club is a Social Group for Ladies in the area who want to explore other cultures by visiting Festivals, Restaurants and other Venues for a particular country. I organize the group, which meets once a month.  I simply pick a country or theme, choose the date to meet and invite Ladies who are members of our Facebook Group. https://www.facebook.com/Ladies.Travel.Club.AZ.Chapter

Greek Festival 2010

We’ve had 23 people attend the annual Greek Festival in Phoenix.  I’m Greek so I was able to help explain foods. When we visited a Peruvian Restaurant, one of our members, Paula, is from Peru, and shared the culture and explained the foods to us.  When we went to India Grill, Janice was our expert on Indian food after being married to an Indian man for many years. It’s been a great learning experience and a great way for a bunch of Ladies to gather for a once-a-month ‘Girls Night” and Network with each other. Some great friendships and business relationships have developed through this group!

German Restaurant In Mesa, AZ

So, we took the opportunity of having Lara here and scheduled Germany Night at Bavarian Point in Mesa http://bavarianpoint.net/.  The Bavarian area of Germany is in the south. Lara is from Northern Germany.  She told us there are many differences between the areas but the menu offered similar foods that she is accustomed to. The place is quaint, in a strip mall stretch of buildings. It looks small from the outside but is very roomy inside with a bar and large dining area.  We had our own private room because we were expecting a large group…. 16 of us!

Before we went there, I told her it was going to be a bunch of Moms and some may ask a lot of questions but just smile and answer what you can. She grabbed her translator just

Brittany and Lara

in case! Luckily, other kids like Brittany, Briana and Taylor were there so she wasn’t surrounded by a lot of “seasoned” gals! And, when it was time to order, everyone was calling out Lara’s name. We all needed her to explain what the items on the menu were, how they were cooked, what the words meant, was the dish good or not, etc! She quickly responded to each and every one of us!

Huhnerbrust Calbados

I ordered Huhnerbrust Calbados, Chicken breast in a cream sauce with apple schnapps
served with spaizles. My daughter, Brittany, ordered Filetgoulash “Stroganoff”, sliced beef filet in a paprika-pickle ham, mushroom cognac sauce finished with a heavy cream, served with spaizles. Lara ordered Huhnerbrust “Punijab”, sauteed chicken tenders in curry sauce with pineapple and almonds
served with rice. I can’t go thru what everyone had but, as you can see from all the pictures, it looked delicious. I have to admit, some of it was a little different, like the spaizles. Brittany didn’t like that part. My mother-in-law makes something very similar and the rest of the family loves it.

Some Members of The Ladies Travel Club

Overall, Lara said she had a great time! She had a smile on her face, she got to eat German food (which she probably misses), she met a lot of people and felt like the “star” of the night… since she was in high demand! Now she can come to the next Ladies Travel Night next month. I think the theme is Japan… so maybe we can find another Exchange Student to help us with that!

If you live in the Phoenix area, and would like to join us, please join our Facebook page.https://www.facebook.com/Ladies.Travel.Club.AZ.Chapter

More Photos Below!