Friday, March 21, 2014

World Down Syndrome Day 2014

Happy World Down Syndrome Day, everyone! I am currently at a conference in Trondheim, Norway organized for this special day. While most everything is in Norwegian, it is just exhilarating to be in a room with so many people who love their family members and friends with Down Syndrome and are passionate about seeing each of them reach their potential. I do have a few kind interpreters, so I'm learning lots about the situation for people with Down Syndrome in Norway! (Perhaps more about that in a subsequent post...) There is also a youth conference for young adults with Down Syndrome happening parallel to the one I'm attending. They invited me to their dance party last night! I squealed with glee along with them when the DJ played Justin Bieber and learned a thing or two from everyone with great dance moves. So much fun! :)

Today though, I just want to show some love to a few of the incredible people I have in my life and to some of those I have met in my travels. Each one of them has made me smile and laugh. They have taught me patience and to remember what is important in life. Each of them has opened my eyes to see past my own minuscule problems. They have shown me unconditional love. And all of these people have brought great joy to my life.

From Germany:

My walking buddy, Steffen.
My train riding buddy, Youstina.

My little friend, Mikey.

From Jordan:

Shahed (left) and Aya (center).
My favorite star!

From Japan:

Shoko and Naru taught me some
sweet dance moves!
Karaoke will never be the same without
Eiko and Shinichi!

And last by not least, from back in Oregon:

My sweet friend, Kristin. I love her enthusiasm!

Bailey's friend Danielle.
My go-to source for all things Portland Trail Blazers!

Cousin Peter, always ready with a big hug!

And the best little sister in the whole world!

I so want to give each of them a big hug in person, especially Miss Bailey, but this picture collage will have to suffice. For those of you who it! Give them a huge hug! One from me too! Show them how much we love them!

Note: For those who may not know, March 21st (3/21) is World Down Syndrome Day because people with Down Syndrome have a third chromosome in the 21st pair. Cool, right!?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Facebook Posts from Germany

It's that time again! I hope everyone enjoys reading these as much as I enjoy posting them. I encounter so many random things while living everyday life in a foreign country. It's nice to share!

1. Indoor heating is amazing. I no longer have to sleep with two pairs of socks and a sweatshirt. I'm not in Jordan anymore!

2. I carried red, Wadi Rum sand all the way to Germany. It's all over my backpack and now the hostel. Oops...

3. I was warned about this before arriving in Europe, but sometimes a glass of wine is cheaper than a glass of water. So... I opted for the wine. 

4. I love the street musicians playing accordion! It fits nicely with the cobblestone streets and quaint shops.

5. I see this billboard everywhere. The whole family in the bathtub...? Really?

6. Nuremberg has the best walking/running paths along the river that runs through the city. Met these guys on my delightful Saturday morning walk one weekend. 

7. I love seeing the little, old German ladies carrying their wicker baskets to the market. Too cute.

8. What we call bread, Germans call "American Sandwich Bread."

9. Someone called me a seasoned traveler! Whoa! It caught me by surprise. Who would have thought!?

10. Germans don't bother with training wheels. Give the kid a bike!

11. Well, I was prepared for a cold and snowy couple months in Germany, but the winter turned out to be quite mild. (I'm not complaining.) We got snow in Nuremberg one day though! Just enough to make the train ride to nearby Lauf absolutely beautiful!

12. I met an American here in Germany who had heard of Harvey Mudd because of the Taylor Swift concert. That's a first. 

13. Definitely too many coins in this currency system.

14. These would have been helpful for those 8AM lectures at Mudd. And those afternoon lectures... And the late night homework sessions...

15. Anyone need new dining chairs?

16. Pudding is a common dessert in Germany. It's cheap and delicious, so I bought a few packages. Turns out making pudding is more difficult than you think. My first attempt turned out a bit lumpy. I didn't put enough sugar in my second batch. And I burned the third. Seems I can travel alone just fine, but can't make pudding... Hmmm

17. I was quite amused with the U.S.A. food section at the supermarket in Hamburg. Pop tarts, Easy Cheese, "Pancake Syrup", BBQ sauce, peanut butter. Clearly all of our favorite health foods.

18. Labskaus! A Northern Germany culinary specialty! Potatoes mixed with corned beef, onions, and beets. Served with an egg and a fish. Delicious!

19. Random act of kindness. A nice woman gave me her day ticket for the U-bahn on my last day in Hamburg. Totally made my day!

I'm in Denmark now! Ready for more exploring and learning. Still amazed and thankful for God's daily provisions as I continue this adventure. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Laufclub 21

This weekend a very special race is happening in a small town near Nuremberg, Germany. This race is a marathon organized by Laufclub 21 (Running Club 21), a running club for athletes with Down Syndrome and other special needs. The club was started in 2007 by a passionate and dedicated mother of a young boy with Down Syndrome. She was inspired by the story of a man with Down Syndrome who completed a marathon and wanted to give others with special needs the chance to do the same thing! This club advocates full inclusion. The athletes participate in community races, open to participants of all abilities. Interestingly, this is intentionally in contrast to Special Olympics which tends to be a fairly independent athletic entity. 

When I was in Nuremberg, I had the privilege of going on a training walk with a few of the amazing athletes that participate in Laufclub 21. I was amazed at their dedication and totally inspired when I learned that they had each participated in multiple marathons! Wow! I can barely run three miles these days... But I sure got some exercise on this training walk! We walked for 5 hours through some beautiful woods, fields, and neighborhoods outside Nuremberg, at a fairly brisk pace I might add. It was truly a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning!

One of the most endearing moments of my time in Germany happened during this walk. We were more than halfway through the walk and I was holding hands with a young man named Steffen for encouragement and stability as we hiked up a hill. I could tell he was quite tired, but I tried to encourage him to keep up with the group and increased my pace slightly. But Steffen wasn't too keen on going any faster. He tapped me on the shoulder and with very clear hand motions said, "Langsam." One word in German and I knew exactly what he meant, "Slow down, Hannah. I don't go any faster. Take it easy." It was great! I couldn't help but smile. So, I chilled out and we chit chatted about Michael Jackson (one of his favorite singers) and our favorite swimming strokes. Finally, at the end of the walk, we could see the parking lot: the finish line! At this point, Steffen threw his arms in the air, "Yay!" He clapped, kissed his fingers and held them to the sky, and then RAN the last 10 meters to the car! I don't know where that energy came from, but it was classic. Steffen was so proud of what he had accomplished and expressed his joy for us all to see. I went home that day full of fresh air, renewed perspective, inspiration, and memories of my time with Steffen that I will never forget. 

Me and my good buddy, Steffen. He rocks!

The woods. Very peaceful.

The whole group! We had a great time!

Good luck to everyone running in the marathon tomorrow! I'm cheering for you all from Denmark! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Groshong's in Germany

More than a week after my family returned home to Oregon, I am finally sitting down to write about their visit! Whew! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind! Ah, but it was such a delight to have my family with me in Germany. I got some much needed hugs and snuggles from Bailey, had some good chats with my Mom (FaceTime is just not the same...), and enjoyed laughing and making jokes with my Dad.

I met the weary travelers at the train station in Nuremberg. We managed to find some Dr. Pepper for Bailey and some bratwurst for my Dad. But even with these incentives, I barely kept them awake that first afternoon. Jet lag is the worst, I completely understand.

So good to have these three with me! 

On our first full day together in Nuremberg, I took them on a walk around the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. While most of the buildings are unfinished (or construction never started), we marveled at the huge scale of the grounds. The cloudy sky, dreary weather, and threatening rain befit the grey buildings and tainted history as well.

Outside the Congress Hall.

This was our first of many walks for the week... I don't think Bailey knew what she in for. Her initial energy and excitement may have dwindled a bit. But what's the best way to rejuvenate tired legs? Food! We had some traditional Nuremberg sausages and warm potato salad for lunch. After one bite Bailey remarked, "Ah! Now this is real food!" I think she had been a bit confused with the meat, cheese, and bread at the breakfast buffet that morning. Where were the Froot Loops?! Fortunately, she was quite pleased with our lunch choice.

We snapped some photos at the Nuremberg Castle, which has a great view of the city, a sea of red rooftops. Even though most of the castle was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt, it was still fascinating to learn about the LONG history this castle has in Bavaria (we're talking the 1100's here).

My cute sister is so photogenic!!

My visitors dropped like flies for a nap that afternoon. I blame jet lag, but it may have also been the delicious pastries we indulged in... Jet lag plus sugar low is a deadly combination. You should know as well that it became a running joke to notice how many bakeries and pastry shops there are in Germany. Carbs on every corner! I'm certainly not complaining!

And then it was off to Munich! We decided we were the tornado family getting on and off trains. Four clueless people with too many bags who don't speak a lick of German... we felt bad for the poor girl who had to share a compartment with us. I was grateful for the travel buddies though. I did have to adjust a bit to having three other people with me, but it was so fun to share the new sights and experiences with the people I love most.

Our first day in Munich we took a day trip to visit two castles in the area, both built by Ludwig II of Bavaria. The first castle, Linderhof, was a small hunting estate tucked into the Bavarian Alps. We stepped out of the bus into a winter wonderland! The inside of the castle was excessively ornate and featured a table that lowered down to the kitchen so that Ludwig could eat completely alone, without even an interruption from a servant.

The second castle we visited, Neuschwanstein, was right out of a fairy tale. In fact, this castle was the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle! We got to go inside, but had to climb a lot of stairs in the process. Bailey looked up at the huge spiral staircase and said with a grin and a hint of sass, "Really!?" This then became her mantra for every long walk or stair climb for the rest of the week.

The view from Neuschwanstein. Ludwig had to outdo his father's castle,
the "little" yellow one on the right.
Day two in Munich was one for the books. We went to BMW Welt! We sat in all the nice cars and checked out all the motorcycles on display. I would have totally come here by myself, but it was 10 times better with my Dad's commentary on all the neat features in different vehicles and technological developments that have occurred over the years. He enjoyed the castle tours, sure, but he had a whole different level of excitement at this place. :) But seeing the finished products wasn't all we did... we got to take a 2 hour tour of the manufacturing plant!! The efficiency, the quick tooling changes, the quality checks, the robots! In the body shop alone, there are over 800 robots, making it 99% automated. It was incredible! By far the most impressive manufacturing facility I've visited. This engineer was pretty gleeful.

However, I think the highlight of the day was the special experience that made Bailey gleeful. There was a 1959 Isetta on display on the exhibition floor. If you don't have a clue what this looks like, it's Urkel's car from the show "Family Matters." Remember that show!? Anyway, we noticed a clean cut German man in a suit starting it up. We were content to watch him drive the little car around the show room. But then, guess who got a ride in the cute, blue, bubble car? Check it out!

We topped off the day with a walk around the Olympic Grounds from the 1972 Munich Olympics. Right as I commented how cool it would be to see the swimming pool we saw the Schwimmhalle ahead! It was awesome. Just imagine the energy in the place with all the best athletes in the world walking the grounds and making history in beautiful facilities. And how cool would it be to live in a city that hosted the olympics? Kids get to take swimming lessons in a state-of-the art pool where olympic athletes once raced. That's a few steps up from the old Oregon City Pool where I lifeguarded, taught swimming lessons, and competed... Anyway, we got some swim caps from the small shop at the pool. Best souvenir ever!

Despite some cold weather, we saw a lot more sights in Munich. My Dad aptly commented, "There's something to take a picture of on every corner of this city". Lots of churches, cool old buildings, palaces. Oh and we ate plenty of delicious food. Probably enough sausages to last a lifetime.


Before leaving Munich, we made it out to Dachau Concentration Camp. A heavy and intense visit to be sure. Bailey certainly sensed the seriousness of the place and didn't like talking about it much afterward. I have read so many books about WWII and the atrocities that took place. But this visit made those stories and images real in a whole different way. Conversely though, the particular day we visited, the weather was eerily pleasant. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping, an atmosphere which contrasted sharply with what we were learning about the place. This dichotomy was difficult to comprehend.

Our time in Munich had come to an end and we made our way to Heidelberg. (Again, we were the tornado family on the train.) Apparently this is the town all U.S. tourists visit. In the words of one German we talked to "there's just some ruins of a castle there." Well, we don't get to see castle ruins everyday in the Oregon! Heidelberg proved to be a quaint and relaxing town. Just what we needed at the end of our trip.

At the castle! 

Beautiful grounds overlooking the river. 

Besides the castle visit, the other highlight of Heidelberg was the Philosopher's Way. This is a unique walk that first takes you up the hillside on a cobblestone path with stone walls on either side, then meanders along above the river with beautiful views of the city and the castle. Bailey dragged her feet a bit and about halfway through my Dad said, "I'm about done philosophizing." But my Mom and I totally loved it.

I think she would have preferred riding the Isetta up the hill.

Heidelberg and the Neckar River
This was really the vacation of a lifetime for our family. And I am so thankful I got to share a bit of my adventure. I needed an interruption in my usual aloneness. But to be perfectly honest, traveling with four people is A LOT more complicated than going solo. :)

It was certainly hard to say goodbye. Bailey was convinced I needed a travel buddy and that she would be willing to take on that role. But alas, we had to part ways. I am so grateful for the memories we made together!!