Monday, June 16, 2014

Germany The Last Three Days

Happy Father’s Day everyone!  I’m grateful I get to spend it with my Dad today and surrounded by my family. This afternoon, we’re all taking a flight to Rome from Frankfurt.  And, I have a little downtime on the flight to document what we did since my last post. 

The last two days have been filled with lots of activity.  On Thursday, Krissy and I went to the Fasanarie Tier Park (Animal Park) with Katja, my niece and nephew, Sophia and Laurenz, Annie and Kaden.  Alex was still recovering from his pink eye and rested while reading (which is his favorite thing to do anyway).  

It’s about a 15 minute walk from Landhaus Diedert through the forest to the animal park.  We enjoyed the cooler weather – especially walking through the forest.  They have a really cool dirtbike trail that the boys would love to ride on if we could rent bikes…maybe we’ll do that when we get back. 

The animal park is pretty awesome – especially since it is free of charge and state run.  I’ve been visiting this place since I was a young boy.  I always remember the “Wild Schweine” – Wild Boars, but this time we didn’t see any.   We did see 3 Bears, a Fox, tons of Goats and Sheep and most impressive, the big Red Deer, which Kaden and Anthem loved to feed. 

Annie and Sophia bonded quite a bit at the playground.  Even though they don’t speak the same language, they still communicate non-verbally and just laughed a lot together.  It was cute.  We had a really nice relaxing time together for the afternoon. 

That evening we went out to eat together at a restaurant on the Neroberg.  This local gasthof has a beautiful scenic view of the German countryside and the Rhein river.  Just like almost every other restaurant in Germany, this one is locally owned and operated.  The food they prepare is wonderful with great places to eat outside as well as inside. 

The boys, of course ordered Schnitzel – their favorite.  Krissy and I each had amazing salads.  What I’m constantly amazed at is how fresh everything is at these local restaurants.  All of the salads are filled with the freshest lettuce, vegetables and the dressing is always zesty and light. 

After dinner, I took Kaden and Annie over to the playground next door.  It was a great area for them to play on while the adults and Alex kept talking.  I enjoyed watching them play for while in this beautiful setting in between the Vineyards and the view of the restaurant. 

While we were on the Neroberg, I truly appreciated talking with Omi.  She seems to be in a very positive place.  Truly being thankful for the time she gets with each of her grandchildren.  And, Anthem, in particular takes a liking to Omi.  They hold each other and cuddle the entire time.  Annie doesn’t have to say anything, but just smile and hold Omi.  That’s the best thing for Omi.  I’m so happy Omi gets another chance to spend with her grandchildren – especially Annie who she hasn’t gotten to spend as much time with yet. 

That night we watched the first World Cup game where Brazil (the host team) played Croatia.  It was a good match-up, but Brazil had lots of favor from the Refs, in my opinion and was able to win the game 3-1.  It was after 12 midnight by the end, so the boys and I finally went to bed. 

Again, sleeping in this German bedrooms is fantastic.  We leave the windows open at night and a nice fresh coolness fills the room while we sleep under our goosedown blankets and pillowcases.  I definitely enjoyed all of our nights of sleep here.  Most evenings we would get 9-10 hours of sleep and sleep in until 10-11am.  This night was no different.

FRIDAY, June 13
After a good nights sleep and a breakfast served to us by the local restaurant, we were set to meet Katja, Patric and the kids for a trip to Taunus Wunderland – a local theme park.  We didn’t have high expectations, so maybe that’s why we enjoyed it so much. 

The theme park, located on the outskirts of Wiesbaden, was a perfect park for all the kids…and even us adults.  Some of our favorite activities included Water Rides, Trampolines, Roller Coasters, Haunted Caves, Carousels and Rocket Rides.  My impression of this place was how self-directed everything was. There were very few workers there at the park.  I’d say, there were 5 tops working the entire place.  And some of them pulled double duty – serving food and drinks and working the rides. 

I enjoyed watching Patric and Katja interact with their children.  They gave very close attention to them and seemed to never be bothered or frustrated with them.  I wonder if begin together for over 20 years before having kids made it easier for them to transition to the next phase of their lives – having kids.  They also seemed to still be very much in love with each other.  I liked seeing that.  Katja is also into natural medicine, which is something Krissy and her connected on throughout the week. 

After 5:30, Patric and Katja had to go to a birthday party of her nephew.  So, they let us take Patric’s car – a very nice BMW, which was very fun for me to drive on the German roads.  What made it even better was the 80’s Duran Duran mix he had in his car.  So, we drove back to the Landhaus Diedert before dinner listening to New Moon on Monday, Union of the Snake, Wild Boys and A View To A Kill.  I think the kids were getting into it too…or at least they didn’t mind.  Kaden was really curious about the car.  Oh, one more cool feature on this car was the speed limit and speed display on the windshield.  And, when you turn on the GPS, the directions were right there in the windshield while I was driving.  I never had to look down to check directions, look at my speed…AND, I always knew the speed limit wherever I was – I guess each speed limit sign has a chip telling cars with the technology how fast they are supposed to go.

That evening, we met Omi, Barbel and my parents for a dinner outside at the Treibhaus, where we will be celebrating our Family Reunion on the 28th – later this month.  The kids enjoyed some cool drinks – Hollunderbaer Limo.  Again, the food and conversation was great.   The boys commented on how much we all say the word “Genau”, which means “Exactly”.  They kept saying it to us from that point on. 

That night we met up at Amo & Apo’s room and watched the first half of Holland vs. Spain.  Spain was heavily favored, but I think they came in a bit jaded – as they were the defending champions.  We watched as the bald Robben (who plays for Bayern Munchen in the Bundesliga) scored 2 goals out of the 5 that the Dutch team scored in that game.  All of Germany was happy to see the Spaniards lose, since the Germans lost to them 4 years ago in the Semi-Finals.  Also, since Robben plays for a German team, they consider him one of their own.

The next morning the boys and I met Patric at his house to help him clear his yard.  Katja and him were going to tear out their existing grass and yard décor and replace it with brand new grass and stone slabs.  It was 2 hours of hard work – tearing out heavy stone slabs, removing large rocks, carrying a heavy trailer through a narrow gate, clearing out a sandbox, moving the sandbox to the patio deck and in general preparing the backyard for the remodel the next week.  It was hard work, but satisfying and fun to do with the boys. 

Later, Katja fed us lunch.  And again, we left stuffed and full of so much food – but it tasted to good.  I think I’ve already gained 5 pounds on this trip. Then, we were off to Landhaus Diedert to change and get ready to go down to the annual Wilhelmstrassen Fest downtown Wiesbaden.

We met up with Barbel, Patric, Katja and all the kids for an afternoon at a local festival with music, rides, food, beer, wine stands.  It was packed as it was a beautiful day for the Germans to take in the festivities.  Krissy and I enjoyed a “Erdbeer Bowle” for the first time.  It’s a mixture of strawberries soaked in Champagne or Vodka.  Delicious!  I could have had 3 or four of them, but held off.  Patric, my dad and I also enjoyed a good large glass of beer.  We went over to the kids play area and let the kids play until they closed it down at 6pm.  Meanwhile a bunch of cover bands were playing on various stages throughout the day.  One time, Annie wanted to just stand there and watch them play – she was so intrigued by the band. 

I got all the kids (except Alex) some balloons at the fair.  They all ate Crepes with Nutella and Kinder Chocolade.  Plus, we had some good local pretzels and Alex finally got to eat Meat on a Stick – actually 2 of them.  He had been wanting to eact that ever since we first walked in.  I’ve eaten so much sausage and meat since getting here, that I’m actually getting a little bit sick to my stomach with all of the carnivorous activity.  That evening, I started feeling a little bit sick. 

Later that night, we went out with Patric, Katja and their friend Petra and another couple friends of theirs.  We went back to the festival, walked around some more, had some more Erdbeer Bowle, enjoyed some beer, local fresh cut French fries (way better than anything in the US) with Mayo – Yum!  The girls (Krissy, Petra, Katja) all got matching belts at one of the local leather shops.  We spent most of the time talking while listening to the local cover band play past midnight. 

The subject of Walker Stalkers came up, which ended up being a great conversation about what’s popular on TV over here in Germany.  Also, they were very interested in how it all worked with the conventions. Maybe they will start watching the show – because none of my family has ever watched an episode.

We stopped for yet one more Erdbeer Bowle at 12:30am to finish the night.  More good talking and casual conversation.  I felt it was good that Patric and I had this time to talk more as we were able to just relax and have a good time together – it felt like old times.  I’m really glad Katja and Krissy get along so well together.  I think our families could have some good vacation time together – either over here in Europe or in the US.  We’ll see. 

That night Annie slept over with Sophia.  Barbel babysat.  I was amazed that Annie wanted to sleep over, even though she couldn’t speak the language.  But, she really wanted to and they apparently had a great time – even though they don’t speak the same language. 

The next morning (Father’s Day) we went over to Patric’s to pick up Annie.  Patric, Annie and Sophia were picking raspberries from their garden.  On their way back, Sophia took a big fall and banged her head really hard against the door – thankfully there was no stitches needed, but there sure was a lot of crying and we were worried for a while.  Krissy tried to give her some oils, but Sophia didn’t want it.  She left some samples behind for Katja.  I’m sure she will use them.  

We said our goodbyes to the Nebhuths and then went over to Omi’s for a light lunch  and some quality time with her.  She and Annie spent a lot of time hugging and staring at each other.  It was very sweet. 

I’ve been driving a lot with the van and the stick shift – just to practice, because I haven’t driven stick shift that much up until now. 

Then, it was time to leave for the airport as we were on our way to Rome!  We got to the airport, had a relatively easy time getting checked-in.  Although I stressed out a little bit because I didn’t print my tickets or had any booking reference #’s.  The kids were laughing at me while I stressed for a few minutes.  Oh well…I’m not a perfect dad.

We met Amo and Apo at the gate, had some relaxing time at the café and are now on the plane headed to Rome.  We will arrive after dinner, get settled into our hotel.  The next post will be from Roma!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Germany: The First Two Days

Well, the first day is always the toughest.  Getting to Germany from America is a long day.

We left Nashville at 3pm on Monday and arrived in Frankfurt at noon on Tuesday, June 10.  Not only was the trip long, but it had it's other challenges. Alex was battling pink eye (and still is).  Annie didn't want to sleep on the plane.  I think she was too excited.  And, Kaden wanted to watch every movie on the plane.  Each of us had our own movies to watch and activities to do.

Once we arrived, we got our luggage, went through customs and waited for Amo & Apo to pick us up. We went straight to our Landhaus Diedert in Wiesbaden, where we changed, showered and got cleaned up.  Some of us took naps, others were too excited and headed down to the restaurant to have a little something to eat.

Later that evening, my Aunt Barbel came with my Omi.  We spent some time with each other - just catching up and giving lots of hugs and kisses.  Annie was especially sweet with Omi, which I know Omi treasured very much.  A little bit later Katja and Patric showed up with their two children - my second cousins/nephews I guess - Sophia and Laurenz (Larry, as we called him).  Sophia and Annie quickly bonded and connected and started to play together at the swing set.

We had a good evening of talking, laughing and telling stories.  We were all pretty tired.  I was amazed at how much energy Annie had though.  She was a trooper.  Never once took a nap until it was time for bed.

At around 10pm we all went to bed and slept relatively well.  We all were up around 2am for a while, but then fell back asleep until a storm woke us up.  We had all the windows open, but it was kind of nice to hear the rain and thunder outside as we continued to sleep until 9.

On Wednesday morning, we originally had made plans to go to the Fasanerie Tier Park (local zoo), but the kids were still sleeping.  We postponed it for tomorrow.  In the meantime, Alex and I were up and he couldn't wait to have a good German breakfast with Broetchen and meats.   He seemed to like it.  His eyes are looking better, but he's been wearing my sunglasses a lot, which helps him.

Later after everyone had some breakfast, Amo, Krissy, the kids and I went for a walk around the neighborhood - through the woods and to the zoo and back.  It was a good hour - and so nice to be walking through the many trails in this area.  It's one of the things I love the most about Germany - taking hikes on all of the trails in the hills and woods.  It feels like they are hundreds of years old.

Then, after Apo got back from the dentist, I drove the stick shift van to Eltville, where we were going to ride bikes along the Rhein river.  Before we got our bikes, Annie wasn't paying attention and almost got hit by a car.  It scared us all half to death.  She was running after Apo and didn't know she was on a street - it was cobblestone.  Anyway, thankfully the lady driving the other car was cautious and slowed down enough not to hit Annie.  I can't think about what could have happened too much or it makes me sick.

Annie rode on the bike with me and I rode along the Rhein with her.  I got some good video of her and I riding with the GoPro. It was fun. All of us had our own bikes.  We rode through a few small towns along the Rhein: Oestrich, Mittelheim and then rode back - stopping often along the way.

We had lunch at a nice restaurant along the Rhein.  The waiter reminded Krissy of Paul Buono - my producer.  Looked just like him and similar mannerisms.  We ate Bratwurst, Kartoffelsalat and Spaetzle.  Plus lots of good drinks and of course, a good cherry kuchen - which we noticed cherries are in season here.

Later that night on the way to dinner, we passed by a local cherry and strawberry stand and got some.  They were delicious.  We ate at a restaurant at the top of the Neroberg - Hof am Neroberg.  Beautiful view and lots of fun memories were made.  Krissy got to share essential oils in depth with Omi and Barbel.  And Annie got to have some precious time with Omi.  By the end, Annie and Kaden were playing on the nearby playground and Alex was in the corner sleeping after another Schnitzel meal!

I drove us all home and enjoyed the fresh cool breeze and beautiful view from our balcony.  The weather has been absolutely beautiful.  I'm very thankful for this nice place we have here to stay at Landhaus Diedert just outside of Wiesbaden in Klarenthal.

That's it for today.  Tomorrow more time with Katja, Patric, Omi and Barbel.  Guten nacht!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How To Handle Troubles and Trials

"We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory. That glory is much greater than the troubles." - 2 Corinthians 4:17 (ICB) 

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (fully developed/mature) and complete (fullness/wholeness), lacking nothing." - James 1:2-4 (NKJV) 

For me, personally, this is a revelation for today. So much so, that I wanted to share it so that I could go back and reference my thoughts. And, maybe one day one of my children or grandchildren could read this and it may help them through a problem or trial they are facing. These scriptures are a good reminder about the best response to a problem, trouble or trial.

First of all, let's define what a problem is. Alex's first question to me, when I read today's reading in "Jesus Calling for Kids" to him this morning, said 'do you mean like a math problem?'. And, that's a great question, because it allowed me to further define what God meant by a 'problem'.

So, what is a problem? The definition of a problem, in this instance, is something that persistently wears you down. Something that is a struggle for you. It's something that challenges you. It could be a problem with a relationship you are in - a friend, coworker, family member, etc. It could be a consistent bad habit or thought pattern that leads to an undesired outcome - like an addiction to eating, pornography, drugs. It could be selfishness, pride. It could be something not even brought on seemingly by you. It could just simply be a circumstance or situation that happened to you that's bad - like a death of a close friend, family member or a loss of some kind.

Whatever the problem, trouble or trial - whether it's something you caused by your actions or not - it's clear in scripture what our response should eventually be. Yes, it's only natural that our first response - maybe even for a few weeks or months - is going to be any one of these things: anger, frustration, sadness, depression, self-pity and whining. That's where the world and the father of lies (Satan) wants you. That's a human response and that's completely normal with how you would expect to respond.

So, don't beat yourself up if you have been responding that way - there's no use and no good purpose for that. Forgive yourself. But, now, here comes the good part. You do control your response to a problem.

Here's what I read this morning from JESUS CALLING: 365 DEVOTIONS FOR KIDS this morning:

"When you have a problem that goes on and on, with no end in sight, see it as a wonderful opportunity. An ongoing problem is like having a tutor who is always by your side. If you are willing, you can learn so much from your trouble.  
Ask Me to open your eyes and your heart to all that I am doing through this problem. I may be teaching you patience or persistence. Perhaps I am strengthening your faith or your courage.  
Thank Me for the lessons you are learning. When you can be thankful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down. In fact, your thankful attitude lifts you up into heavenly places with Me, where you see the situation from My point of view. This lets you see your problems as a small, temporary trouble that is helping you gain an eternal Glory - blessings that will never end!" 

Read Isaiah 30:20-21. Here's what it says - to further make the point:

"And though the Lord gives you The bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left." 

And, I also should lead you to read James 1:2-8 to have an even deeper understanding of what's going on in the kingdom when we chose to be thankful for our trials.

Eventually, we are all going to have troubles in our lives. It's how we chose to tackle these problems that we begin to see the supernatural changing power of God enter into the situation. It's ironically in being thankful for the problem and sincerely beginning to speak out praises to Him for the trial that we begin to let that problem go. It's all about releasing something that seems completely out of our control and allowing the problem to be our teacher. Allowing God to reveal supernatually to us the solution. 

So, in essence, the solution is in letting go of trying to find the solution in our own strength. It's actually in our releasing that we receive our strengthening. God's Kingdom works differently than the world's kingdom. You see it plain as day when you compare the two.

So, I encourage you today. If you've been wrestling with an ongoing problem/trouble/trial, to begin to take the only attitude that will lead you to the solution: thankfulness and praise. Begin to be sincerely thankful about the problem you are having. See this as an opportunity to learn and grow. As you let it go, it will lose the power it has over you, Satan will once again be defeated, you will be living in a new reality - the reality that is really the truth. And truth will set you free - FOREVER - period. There is no other truth. Everything is false and a lie. Choose to believe His truth in your life today!

May God bless you as you do!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Titans Lions - September 23 2012 - Great Game

I won't forget this game for a long time.  An amazing win by the Titans.  They are not an amazing team this year (so far), but being a Titans fan made this game special.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wall Squat Championships and the Importance of Pushing Each Other

Last night, the Nordhoff family did a Wall Squat Competition.  I'm not sure exactly who started it - probably Kaden - but it turned out to be a great lesson for me.

I officially started the competition with a respectable score of 1:31 minutes.  I thought that was pretty good.  Up next, Kaden.  He wizzed passed my 1:31 and with a lot of gasping, making funny faces and pain, he was able to persevere through to 2:30.

After that, Mom was up.  She went to 3:12!!!  WOW!  I was impressed with my wife.

Up next, Amo and Apo.  Amo went to 1:30 - my original time.  Respectable!  Apo went to 2:45.  Again, very respectable.

Then, it was Alex's turn.  He went to 4:01!  Incredible.

By this point, Kaden was highly motivated - almost angry with competitiveness.  So, he squats against the wall for an incredible 6:30!  WOW!  We all though no way are we going to beat that time.

I go up again and I get 2:01.  I beat my previous high of 1:31, but I was just too tired after doing it so much beforehand without being timed.  I'll get em next time, I said to myself.

Then, for the grand finale, Alex gets up against the wall and is determined to beat Kaden.  Well, leave it to a brother to motivate you.  Alex stays against the wall for an amazing 7:01 minutes!  Bravo Alex!

Do you think Alex and Kaden would have gotten such high numbers if they had done those wall squats on their own?  No way!  They needed each other to push beyond what they thought they could do.

I let that be a lesson for me.  In everything I do, I need to do it with others - especially if there's a competition.  Because if I have someone to push me, I will go beyond what I think I can do.  I work by myself most of the time.  But recently I took on a very large client where I get to work in a team atmosphere.  It's been really great so far because the other team members have already challenged me - not even directly challenged me, but indirectly, by their work ethic and work standards.

This little experience has caused me to re-think my workout plan.  I was planning on doing the exercises on my own, but now I'm thinking I might do it with some of my friends and have them challenge me to go beyond.  I'm also planning on publicly sharing my weight loss goals with more of my friends and have them push and challenge me.  By the way, my goal is to weigh 190 or less by the end of this year.  I'm currently 210.

That little wall squat competition did a lot for our family.  Not only did we have a lot of fun, but we also gained a lot of respect for what each other could do, it was fun and it made us realize that we need each other to go beyond what we think we can do on our own.

Oh, and one more important thing.  Yesterday, my friend and neighbor, James Frazier, competed in the Ironman competition. He persevered and he finished.  It's was an inspiring day for us all as we kept up with his progress all day online.  This morning, he's got me believing I could do the Ironman too.  What, am I crazy?  Maybe.  But one thing is true, his accomplishment pushes me to believe beyond what I think I can do on my own!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Father's Heart Weekend 2012

This weekend, I experienced The Father's Heart Weekend: Celebrate the boy, Call out the man.   This year, I took my youngest son, Kaden.  2 years ago, Alex joined me.  It's an unforgettable weekend where both dad and boy get outside of the routine of life and focus on each other.

We spent the weekend playing games, sports, being outdoors and just enjoying being together. Mixed in with all of the fun and games are two poignant ceremonies - an affirmation service and a time of worship together.  The combination of it all makes for a weekend like none other I've ever experienced.

My son and I get to share in an experience together that bonds us for life.  It gives us a chance to have a purposeful heart exchange together.  He knows, after this weekend, how deeply he is loved by me and by His heavenly father.  He is a beloved son.

He leaves the weekend with a treasure box with his named inscribed on the outside. Inside it there are 'relics' of the weekend - reminders of our time together and also reminders of who he really is.  From time to time, he can go back inside his treasure box and remember the things we did together - baseball, football, climbing a 50 foot tower, zipline, fishing.  Also inside, is a letter I wrote him before the weekend began.  And, finally, inside is the blessing I read to him as I 'knighted' him as my beloved son, forever marked by my love.

We were given a time to honor our own fathers during the worship service on Sunday morning.  It was powerful to bring to mind and speak out loud what our own fathers meant to us growing up and how his love now carries through to our love for our own sons.

This was a weekend Kaden won't soon forget - and neither will I.  I know that because Alex reminded me yesterday of just about every detail he and I experienced together that weekend 2 years ago too.

So, I come away from the weekend with a full heart.  I have laughed, played like a kid again, cried hard over my son, received his love for me and gave love deeply to him.  Fathers, there's nothing better you can do for your boys, and for yourselves, than to love them deeply and purposefully.  I needed this time just as much as my son.  I needed to be reminded that I'm a beloved son of my Heavenly Father.  I am full this morning - full of the good food that can only come from my Dad in Heaven.

Click here to listen to our playlist from the weekend.  My favorite song is "The Father's Blessing".

Monday, August 6, 2012

Guys Retreat at the Ocoee

I spent the weekend near the Ocoee River in Copperhill, TN with 3 of my best buddies.  This is the fourth year in a row I've headed out of town with these guys for some much needed fellowship and fun with Bryson and Lee.  And, this year we were glad to have Gregg join us.  I know it will be a tradition that will not soon be broken.  These are the 3 guys I meet with every other week here in Nashville.  We talk about all sorts of things twice a month - but mainly it's just good to know I have some guys that understand me and that support me as I am.

On Friday, we met up at Brysons house at 9am.  From there, we all piled into Lee's car (he usually drives) for our 3 hour trip past Chattanooga into the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We traditionally stop at Starbucks near Manchester, TN and this year was no different.  This morning, Lee was feeling his usual frisky self. To make us all feel uncomfortable and embarrass us, he decided to see what we would do if he walked out of the bathroom with his shirt unbuttoned right there in Starbucks.  Lee!!  What are we gonna do with you?!!  Once we turned off of 75 onto the side roads, we stopped at Angela's Restaurant for a little meal.

After 3 hours of driving, we finally arrived at our cabin - the Ranger's Cabin at Whitewater Express in Copperhill, TN.  This was a place we visited last year in September when we used them for whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.  We loved the feeling of the place and the cabin itself in 2011 and had this cabin reserved for almost a year when we finally arrived on Friday around 1pm.

The guys gave me my own room because I was the loudest snorer of the bunch.  Yes!  Gregg slept upstairs in the loft (the coldest spot in the cabin).  He had to climb a ladder to get up there. Bryson and Lee shared a two twin bed room.  

After getting settled, we explored the grounds on foot.  There was a group of high school youth just getting in across the field.  Wow, they were loud...and pubescent.  It seemed quieter last year when we visited...Oh well, we checked out the ropes course.  We were given a tour.  It was nice, but not worth $28.50 per person.  We would be finished in about 15 minutes.  Not worth it.  They also had a Blob on a man-made pond on the grounds.

We decided to eat in both nights, so we bought enough food for the weekend for all of us at the local Piggly Wiggly (in Ducktown).  We set the table on the deck outside and sat down to enjoy a good meal together.  Well, very quickly, some yellow jackets caught wind of our good food and started attacking us.  Gregg was stung pretty hard, then Lee starting swatting.  Pretty soon, we ran inside for our lives with our plates and drinks.  We left the meat sauce outside and within 10 minutes we didn't dare try to bring the pot of it in because it was covered with a swarm of yellow jackets.

With our bellies food after eating on our make-shift table and chairs inside, we enjoyed some of Heather's (Bryson's wife) home-made carrot cake, we turned on some Olympics and played an intense game of cards.  Bryson forgot his deck of Rook, but Gregg surprised him with a new pack of Rook that he had planned on giving him all along on the trip!  It was fun.  Lee and I were amateurs compared to Bryson and Gregg.  In fact, Gregg had never lost in Rook since Bryson taught him a few years ago.  That night was no different.

Afterward a good couple of hours or Rook, we sat outside, had a great talk all of us.  We heard some of the youth sneaking out to the Blob on the pond and jumping on it.  Lee and I were inspired to climb out there ourselves and see if we wanted to do the same.  Lee pulled out because of his back.  We tried to get Gregg and Bryson to come out - but they wouldn't budge.  Oh well, it could have been a blast - although not allowed.  We had a great conversation about the things we each feared the most - not physical fears, but emotional and mental ones.  It was really interesting and helped us to understand one another better.

We finally got to bed around 1:30 that night.

The next morning, we woke up early - I cooked some bacon and eggs for everyone, cut up some fruit.

We took off for the Ocoee trails.  It was an awesome morning - a slight breeze, low 80's and partly cloudy.  The Ocoee seemed really high that day.  We would walk alongside of it for quite a while too.  The hike was just what we needed.  We walked for almost three hours - up and down the hills next to the Ocoee.  It was great exercise and we enjoyed some good talks along the way.  We hiked 7.25 miles that morning.

We grabbed a quick lunch on the go and headed for the Hiwassee River for a 2-man kayak trip.  As soon as we got there after driving about 30 minutes, it began to sprinkle.  That sprinkle turned into an all out downpour and thunderstorm for about an hour.  We were delayed in getting out because of it.  We crammed into a van and drove together with some other riders from Murfreesboro.

The rain just stopped when we pulled into the entrance of the water.  The water was shockingly cold.  To top it off, we were freezing/shaking from the cold water/rain.  So, it wasn't a fun beginning - lots of clouds and fog.  But, by the end the sun had come out and we were burning up.  I was in the back and Gregg was in the front.  I steered.  Bryson and Lee shared a kayak and they seemed to be slower than us most of the time.  Not sure what they were doing back there.  We spent almost 3 hours on the river.  It was a little low in spots - we got caught on several rocks throughout.  Overall it was fun for us though.  We could be lazy in most of the spots - it wasn't a challenging river for us - more relaxing.

That night, we made another meal together, then watch another night of Olympics and Rook marathon. One moment of the Olympics that blew me away was the South African Oscar Pistorius, who qualified for the semi-finals after coming in 2nd in the quarterfinals by running on two prosthetic legs.  Simply inspiring.  Also, Michael Phelps won his 22nd and final Olympic medal - the greatest ever.

On the Rook front, Gregg and I teamed up.  We had a good lead in the first game together.  Somehow Lee just kept on getting great hands and they came back and beat us - Gregg's first defeat.  Lee and Bryson very obnoxiously hugged and celebrated together.  So gay, I thought.  :)  Actually, I was pretty annoyed - and so was Gregg.  I was determined to be more aggressive in the next round.  We came back and won easily in the 2nd game.  In the third and last, Lee challenged us to a 1000 point round.'re on, Lee.  Bryson just rolled his eyes and knew was domination by Gregg and me!!  I learned how important it is to be aggressive and bid higher on some of the hands I was dealt.  He who gets the kitty is usually the winner - except Lee lost with the kitty 3 times over the weekend.  Oh well - credit him for taking risks!!

Afterwards, I asked Gregg to show me some of his wrestling moves.  Gregg teaches wrestling to the high school boys at Paige High.  Wow, did I learn a lot from him.  Still on a full stomach, I did my best to keep up Gregg.  I learned it's all about position and control in wrestling.  Gregg showed me some good moves that I can share with Alex when we wrestle.

After the 3rd workout of the day, I was wiped.  Bryson took some funny pictures of us wrestling and my face afterwards - completely wiped.

For the last couple of hours, we shared some of our goals together. Bryson was wiped out and went to bed around 12:30.  Gregg, Lee and I stayed up for a while longer - talked some more while we built a fire in the outside fireplace.  It was a great night out in the mountain air.

The next morning, we had a good breakfast and just about 2 hours to have some sharing and prayer time.  Lee and Gregg primarily shared.  It was great to hear more of Gregg's story as he's the newest member of our group.  We finished with a good prayer time, cleaned the house, packed up and headed home.

We stopped in Manchester, TN on the way home and ate at one of Bryson's favorite restaurants growing up - I think it was called J & G Pizza & Steakhouse (actually Greek food).  When we walked in, it was like stepping into a time capsule from 1978.  The food was great though.  A nice end to a great guy's trip.

There's nothing better than being known so well by a group of guys.  As an only child, I didn't have a chance to experience that as much.  We've shared experiences and vulnerable conversations together.  These men are my brothers in Christ.  Can't wait until next year!