Flowers & Fragrance

On my last day of my spring trip to the Netherlands, I had a lot that I wanted to do. It was still a bit early for the tulips to be in full bloom; but ultimately, I decided – how can I not go see the tulips while visiting Holland in the spring-time?

After a full-day of traveling from Cinque Terre, with a stop in Pisa and dinner in nearby Delft, I left The Hague at 6 am and set off to navigate the trains and bus system for a full day of sight-seeing.

Tourist tip #1 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Go to the Keukehnoff! I had some doubts since it’s known as a tourist destination and since it was early in the season, but it still blew me away.

I was greeted by so many gorgeous colors!

Even despite a rainy morning, it was still a breathtaking sight.

Tourist tip #2 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Get to the Keukenhoff early! Rather than taking the tourist bus, I navigated the commuter bus system (it was pretty easy), and arrived just as the gates opened at 8:00 am. It was definitely worth it as I had the entire place mostly to myself for the first hour.

Much easier for taking tulip selfies, too!

This was one of the most refreshing, peaceful experiences I’ve had in a long time. Not only were the vibrant colors invigorating, but the sweet smells of the tulips and other flowers were delightful. It filled my heart with much needed peace and joy.

I’m so glad I went and highly recommend! Enjoy the rest of these pictures!

Most of the outdoor tulips were not blooming yet, but the exhibition halls were beautiful!

Enjoyed an espresso and the delicious, classic Dutch pancakes after a few hours walking through the gardens!

Den Haag

I knew very little about The Hague (or Den Haag in Dutch) until just a few months ago. I may have even just thought it was a building and not a city…!

Enter my amazing sister Michelle, who is a super smart DNA scientist. In late June, she accepted a job with the International Commission on Missing Persons, located in The Hague, Netherlands, with a start date in mid-August.

I graciously offered to travel with her to help her move, and navigate a new city. I’m such a good sister to sacrifice a trip to Europe, am I not?

We quickly fell in love with this beautiful country. The Hague, in particular, is a fascinating international city, with much history, culture, and beauty.

There are gorgeous flowers everywhere, and it wasn’t even the famous tulip season in Holland! As I struggle to keep my flower baskets alive back home, everywhere we turned in The Hague, or other cities we traveled to, we were greeted with vibrant, cascading flowers.

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One fascinating aspect of life in the Netherlands – one of the flattest countries in the world – is the Dutch affinity for biking. As a pedestrian, you’re more likely to get hit by a bike than a car!

With their highly developed bike path system – in the cities and countryside – it’s quite easy to explore, and great exercise!

The best part about having a family member who lives in such an interesting place, is that I have a perfect excuse to go back. Stay tuned for more pictures and adventures!

p.s. WOW Airlines just announced today new (cheap!) flights to Amsterdam and other destinations!

Woman's Best Friend(s)

Not diamonds. Dogs.

Although if anyone’s passing out free diamonds, I wouldn’t turn them down!

In honor of National Dog Day, here are some adorable pics of my dogs!

Waiting patiently for a treat.

Yes, I take selfies with these cuties…

I call this their hieroglyphic pose.

Panting after a long run!

Benefits of Having Dogs, in Particular, Two German Shorthaired Pointers (an incomplete list):

  • Having a cuddle session multiple times a day (seriously, I’ve never known such cuddly dogs…they are lapdogs inside of a muscular, athletic 60+ pound pointer).
  • Getting to know the neighbors when they escape and I’m chasing them across town.
  • Per the above, getting some much needed exercise in.
  • Having two little buddies follow you around everywhere (which can also become problematic when you need to use the restroom).
  • And the list could go on…

In all seriousness, after nearly a year with these two fur-balls, I truly believe that the sweet relationship between humans and their dogs is a blessing from God!

Basically, dogs are the best. Happy National Dog Day. Go hug your dog (or go adopt one!).

How could you resist this face?

They LOVE the water…

And they love to run!

The Fullness of Time

Merry Christmas!

I’m thinking of my time in Israel today.  I neglect this blog far too much, and have not even found time to write about my incredible trip to the Holy Land, but here are some pictures from Bethlehem, where our Creator, Lord, and Savior came to this earth, in the flesh, as a humble servant!

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Church of the Nativity, built upon the spot where tradition claimed Jesus to have been born.

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The hillsides of Bethlehem

 

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One of my favorite Scripture verses about Christ’s birth is written by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters].”

From the very beginning, when God created the Heavens and Earth, he set the world in motion so that his Son would be born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem at the appointed time. God sent His son to send Him to the cross to redeem His children from our sin.

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The Garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives.

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Skull Hill, otherwise known as Golgotha, or Calvary in English–the hill where many Christians believe Christ gave his life for us on the Cross. A bus stop sits next to it.

The gifts under the tree tonight are wonderful gifts, but the gift of salvation is the sweetest one of all!

For One Cup of Coffee a Day…

photo (4)You can change the life of one child.  Her name is Mariam.

Precious Mariam is nearly 5.  She lives with her large family in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, and one with high risk for child rights violations.

Would you consider sponsoring Marian through Compassion International?  Your small monthly gift will allow the staff of EAC Centrale Nouna Child Development Center to provide Mariam with Bible teaching, health education, medical checkups, nutritious food, games, group activities, and choir.  I’m participating in the “Speak Up for One Child” campaign with Compassion, where I’ve been uniquely assigned with the task of finding a sponsor for Mariam, and I need your help!

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It’s a mere $38 a month to sponsor Mariam, and to make a lasting impact in her life.  If you have questions, check out Compassion Speak Up or send me an email at bethany1027@gmail.com!

I understand if you think this sounds nice, but wonder about the effectiveness of the various international charitable and sponsorship organizations.  You might be thinking, do they really work?

Last year, Christianity Today reported on a University of San Francisco study that demonstrated the effectiveness of Compassion International’s child sponsorship programs.  It’s a fascinating article, and I recommend you read it here: “Want to Change the World? Sponsor a Child.”  What is interesting is that, Compassion was the only organization that was even willing to take part in this study – the first of it’s kind – and submit their programs to scrutiny.

After first examining the data, Bruce Wydick, a professor of economics and international studies, and the project’s director, wrote:

“We tried slicing the data different ways, but each showed significant educational improvements. You could beat this data senseless, and it was incapable of showing anything other than extremely large and statistically significant impacts on educational outcomes for sponsored children.”

But it’s not just the nutritional and educational programs that make the difference.  Wydick’s first conversation with Compassion’s recently retired CEO, Wess Stafford, after publishing the data, gets to the heart of what makes child sponsorship special.

“Your program works,” I said.

“I know,” he smiled.

“But I am analyzing this data as a dispassionate scientist, not as an advocate of Compassion like yourself,” I replied. “We’re not just finding positive correlations, but substantial causal effects from the program—in every country—especially Africa. I’m wondering what is happening here. You’re a former academic. I think there is something deeper going on in the program that would interest the greater development community. I need some leads.”

“Try hope,” he said.

CarlosHope makes life worth living – no matter what you’re circumstances.  I’ve had the joy and honor of sponsoring Carlos from San Salvador, El Salvador and Purity from Meru, Kenya for 7, and 4 years, respectively. They are precious!  In his recently letter to me, Carlos shared with me his hopes, and what he’s been learning thanks to the program he is part of through Compassion:

“I want to tell you about my hope for the future.  In the future, I want to be a graphic designer specialist; I also want to play the guitar…I want to tell you that at the project, I learned a lot about the 10 commandments and how important they are for my life and to receive salvation.  I am very thankful with all your help and support and I thank you for the letter you sent me; I treasure it very much.”

Will you give hope to a little child such as Mariam?  Let me know!

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Morning Majesty

This week I have to remind myself of the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers” – it’s already been raining for two days straight and is supposed to continue all week. We’ve gotten a taste of spring, and yet today it’s been feeling like winter again!

Since I was stuck indoors tonight, it was a good opportunity to get out my cherry blossom pictures from a few weeks ago and revel in the beauty again.  This year, I visited the Tidal Basin at sunrise – it is absolutely worth losing a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning.  From now on, I plan to skip the crowds during the day and only visit in the morning – it was glorious!

I’m still working on my photography skills, but even just using the auto functions captured some absolutely beautiful scenes!

Hopefully, all of this rain is just preparing us for another round of flowering trees and flora!

 

Virginia's Presidential Trail

My historical/political-love tank got filled to last for a long time this weekend – I was able to visit homes of 4 of the first 5 U.S. Presidents and Founding Fathers.  It’s amazing that they’re all so close – Charlottesville is only about a 2 hour drive from D.C, and of course Mt. Vernon is about 20 miles south of the Nation’s Capital. What was in the water in Virginia back in the 1700’s? Whatever it was, thank God it was!
Each of these homes was uniquely incredible, and taking a tour not only takes you back to early 1800’s, but also into the mind of each of these Founding Fathers. At Montpelier, the final room on the tour is James Madison’s library. It’s just a portion of the 5th President’s collection, but as our guide explained, that was where Mr. Madison, father of our Constitution, studied and prepared before traveling to the Constitutional Convention.
Monticello is incredible, not to mention the fact that Thomas Jefferson himself designed it. Among other things to admire about Jefferson is his humility. I found this really interesting – his epitaph at Monticello reads: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
James Monroe’s home, Ashlawn-Highland, is more modest, but equally interesting. The 4th President had a fascinating life and some amazing artifacts in his home from his time as Secretary of State.
And then there’s Mt. Vernon, nestled on the banks of the Potomac. George Washington was a skilled farmer, in addition to military genius, statesman, and our first President. He is the perfect example of a leader “for such a time as this.”

I’ve thought this at other times when I’ve toured Mt. Vernon, and the thought struck me again this weekend – these men were so smart. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison spoke 7 languages! And not to leave out the women – their wives too! For example, Dolley Madison wrote the book on conversation, hostessing, and the role of the First Lady. Their love of learning and making a better world for their countrymen, is inspiring. My desire to preserve and protect their ideas and ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all has been strengthened!