We're the Kochs (pronounced like Cook!), a military family living the amazing dream of being stationed in Germany for four years. We are taking advantage of travelling and exploring Europe together, and this blog is our way of sharing our experiences with family and friends.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

netherlands + belgium | a little weekend away

Hello everyone, and welcome back to our blog!  I haven't posted anything in a really, reallyyyyyyy long time (do me a solid and don't go looking at how long), but Rich and I just got back from a fun little weekend away and I wanted to share some photos with you!

Rich organized a trip for his squadron to go back to the Netherlands American Cemetery to do some volunteer work on Friday, so I took a day off from work to go and help.  We decided to make a weekend of it and just get away for a couple of days.  

I had missed their initial clean-up visit back in 2015, but Rich had taken me back a few months later to see the cemetery.  You can read about that trip and the history of the cemetery here.  I was really excited for the opportunity to give back to this community who is still so reverent of their liberation that took place over 70 years ago.  And I'll tell you, it was an experience that I will always hold dear in my heart.  The work wasn't difficult or taxing.  We were simply asked to take some buckets, a little water, and some special sponges and spot clean the crosses.  Cleaning bird droppings off headstones isn't a glamorous job by any means, but as I walked by each of those beautiful white marble crosses my soul was stirred.  I read each name, I looked to see where he was from, and I said a silent thank you for their sacrifice.  I know I wasn't alone in this, because later each of the others in our group mentioned the ranks and names they read too.  I didn't get my camera out while we were there, but I did take a couple of photos with my phone.

As of now, 2nd Lt Willis A. Utecht was the last American to be buried in the cemetery in September 1994.  Once the grounds were designed and dedicated, policy held that no others were to be buried here.  2nd Lt Utecht was listed as one of the 1,722 American names on the Tablets of the Missing as his platoon was last seen in October 1944.  Fifty years later, his remains were found in a Dutch field and his family requested burial at the cemetery.  Since policy wouldn't allow this, the family petitioned Congress and were granted the right to have 2nd Lt Utecht laid to rest among his comrades.  Because the plots were already in a set formation, he was given his very own row.  At least, for now.  Our tour guide felt that it's very likely that there will be more remains found in the future, and thus there will be more.  You can read more about 2nd Lt Utecht and see his photos here.

Once we finished at the cemetery, we drove the 15 minutes to our hotel in Valkenburg.  We quickly checked in and walked downtown to check out the area.  The entrance to the castle ruins were closed by the time we arrived, boooooo!  

Castle ruins
We found a souvenir shop for our touristy needs, then had dinner at a place called Chickens.  We shared a bucket of chicken and some fries, and we enjoyed some locally brewed beer.  One of our favorite things about Europe is relaxing outside at a cool restaurant and just enjoying a nice meal together!  We will really miss this part of living here.

View of the street from our table.
We finished up and tried to find an eis creme shop, but they were all closed already.  What?!  Crazy.  We were bummed, but Rich posted our first Facebook Live video.  If you missed that one, you should go and find it!  There really wasn't anything else to do by this time, so we headed back to our hotel.  On the way, I noticed something sadly familiar in the sidewalk.

If you haven't heard of stolpersteine, or stumbling stones, then let me tell you that they're humbling.  As you're walking down a sidewalk, if you pay attention, you'll see these small engraved brass plates.  On each plate is the name of a Holocaust victim, the year that they were born, and the date and place where they were murdered.  The stumbling stones have been placed in front of the victims' last known residence.  I have found many around Wiesbaden, and I knew they have been placed in other cities around Germany, but I didn't know until Friday night that they were in other countries as well.  This was also the first time I've seen Auschwitz on one of them.  NPR has a really great article about this project and the artist who is responsible for this movement.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel before heading to Dinant, Belgium.  I was really enthusiastic about the scrambled eggs in particular.  Rich warned me not to eat them because they looked watery, but they tasted fine to me!  Yeahhhhh...the hour and a half ride in the car was pure misery for me.  I was so nauseous, and every bump in the road was a threat to my stomach.  Once we parked in Dinant and started walking, we immediately wondered what was with all the saxophone statues!  Turns out that Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, was born here in 1814.  ("Saxomophoooone, saxomophooooone...")  There was a lot of construction going on, so amazing photo ops were kinda ruined.  I still wasn't feeling good, so I left the camera in the car.  Thank goodness Rich took some pics with his phone.

Dinant is first known to have been mentioned in the 7th century.  Over the years the city has seen many wars and much destruction as a result.  The Collegiate Church of Notre Dame was built in the 13th century.  The pear-shaped bell tower was added in the 16th century.
The Citadel of Dinant overlooks the town.  It was first built in the 11th century, then rebuilt and enlarged in the 16th century.  In 1703 the French completed destroyed it, and what we see today was rebuilt in 1821.  There were cable cars to take visitors up to have a look around, but boy oh boy my nausea said nope.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don't just turn down rides on cable cars, sky buckets, roller coasters, or anything else of the sort.  

Hey, speaking of my tummy.....see the beautiful Collegiate Church of Notre Dame in the photos below?  Those scrambled eggs and I publicly defaced the outside of that church.  Four times, Rich says.  Please forgive me, Father, for I didn't mean to.  I was especially grateful to sit in that church that day and let my knees rest while Rich looked around!  And the next time that my husband tells me not to eat something, it is now publicly written that I WILL LISTEN.

Statue of Charles de Gaulle, erected in 2014.  The future President of France was shot in the leg during a battle in Dinant in World War I.

Dinant, along the River Meuse
We had some lunch then Rich said he had a surprise for me.  I didn't know where we were going, but I was feeling much better by this time so I was good just enjoying the ride and the beautiful Belgian countryside.  

We arrived at Villers Abbey and, once again, I was blown away at how Rich gets me and knows how to surprise me in ways that I truly appreciate.  

Construction of the abbey began in the 12th century.  The Gothic settlement took over 100 years to complete.  Over the years and due to many invasions, the monks had to leave the abbey and flee to safety nine times.  During the 18th century, the buildings were reconstructed in Neoclassical style.  The French Revolution brought the abbey to its final days, and in 1794 it was pillaged, sold, and dismantled.  Visitors were first attracted to the ruins during the 19th century, including one Victor Hugo.  

I can't even tell you how excited I was to wander these majestic ruins with my camera in hand.  I took my first shot only to realize that I hadn't checked which lens was in the bag before we left home.  Dang it, I brought the wrong one, so I was very limited to close-up shots instead of larger scale landscape ones.  It turns out that this wasn't all bad, as it gave me some much-needed time to be creative and enjoy a hobby that I haven't touched in way too long.  Rich did some live video feeds while I wandered around looking for interesting bits of architecture and nature.  Here are some of my photos...

We explored the abbey for a couple of hours, then it was time to head to Maastricht for dinner.  We've visited this town before, but Rich had found a Mexican restaurant on TripAdvisor he wanted to try.  Unfortunately we couldn't find it, so we went with the Famous American Bistro.  We both picked the tequila lime chicken, but the mixed regular and sweet potato fries were so good.  Oh man.  After dinner, we drove the short distance back to our hotel to get some rest.

The next morning we had one last thing to do before driving home.  If you guessed the Tongeren flohmarkt, you're right!  Oh wow, how I've waited patiently for the chance to get to go to this one.  I've heard it's huge, with tons of vendors and tons of good stuff.  I skipped the eggs at breakfast and took the high road with bread and yogurt--but come vomit or high water, I was PUMPED to go to Tongeren!

What a letdown, yall.  Seriously.  Yes, there were TONS of vendors, it's true.  I think my expectations were just way too high, and much of it was severely overpriced.  I spotted a beautiful enamel pitcher at literally the second booth we came to after we parked.  I asked the vendor in German how much he wanted for it.  He angrily answered me back in German, "One hundred euros."  Um, okay.  I set the beauty back down and we walked away.  My hopes were deflated.  Trampled on.  Set on fire.  Ripped to shreds.  The majority of people in this area of Belgium are French speakers, and though my French is at least enough to get by, I just asked in German out of habit I guess.  Maybe he doesn't like Germans, or maybe he knew we were American.  Either way, he wasn't getting a hundred euros out of me for that lovely piece of vintage gorgeousness.  

We ended up buying a lace table scarf, three old books, and a little wooden wagon.  Rich has been wanting a wooden wagon for a long time, and we found one at a flohmarkt a few months ago for a STEAL.  Unfortunately, it never would have fit in our car so we had to pass.  The little guy we found at Tongeren is much smaller than what we really want, but he'll do just fine.  

After a couple hours of being disappointed overall, despite the few things we did find, we were just ready to go.  We had a snack at a little cafe and hit the road, Jack.  Home, sweet home!

We really hope you've enjoyed reading about the latest Koch adventures.  I really do plan to get better about blogging regularly.  Goodness, I have so many trips and photos to share with you all!  

Oh, and happy first day of Spring!

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

the day the world stopped

One year ago today.

Just the week before, I'd bought my first maternity clothes.  I was barely showing, but you could definitely tell.  I couldn't get over looking down and seeing the proof that someone was growing in there!

We were so excited to go to our 12 week appointment.  We couldn't wait to see our sweet baby again, hear that precious heartbeat, see how he or she had grown since the month before.  So giddy.  So much anticipation.  So.  Very.  Happy.

I didn't mind the cold goo on my tummy.  I didn't mind when the doctor accidentally got some on the stretchy part of the maternity pants that I'd carefully folded down.  

Rich stood beside me, videoing the monitor as we saw our baby pop up on it.  I said, "There you are!" as the happy tears came.  Our sweet, sweet baby.  

I waited for the doctor to say something.  Anything.  An eternity passed and still, he said nothing.  And I knew.  He didn't have to say it.  And I didn't want him to.  But he did.

"Mrs. Koch, I'm sorry.  There's no heartbeat."  And just like that, our world crashed.  The whole thing.  

I looked at Rich, he looked at me, and immediately I wondered what I'd done wrong. I didn't know that so many emotions could overtake a person at once.  Terror.  Panic.  Guilt. Anger.  As we left the doctor's office, I remember hearing someone laugh and I was overcome with such anger toward them.  We crossed the street outside and there were people walking, people driving, and I was angry at them too.  Why didn't they know that the world had just stopped spinning?  

It didn't take long for the bitterness to set in.  Bitterness and guilt.  I went over everything a million times in my head.  Was it because I kept accidentally sleeping on my stomach?  I didn't mean to sleep on my stomach but I always seem to wake up that way. Was it because of that heavy bag of groceries that I'd carried up the stairs that one time? It didn't feel all that heavy at the time.  Was it because of that one night I threw up the prenatal vitamin I'd just taken?  I never forgot them but I didn't take another one that night.  Was it because I stopped drinking the orange juice the doctor wanted me to drink?  I hate orange juice, but the grape juice I replaced it with had vitamin C too.

I was bitter when I saw other women with their healthy babies.  I was bitter at all the happy "We're expecting!" Facebook announcements.  I was bitter when pregnant friends would complain about their sore backs, their lack of sleep, their discomfort of carrying.  

One year later--a lot of emotions, a lot of long talks, a lot of soul searching, a lot of praying, a lot of sadness--and I don't blame myself anymore.  There will always be the question in my heart of what happened.  But I put my trust in God.  The bitterness has faded a lot and I'm no longer angry.

Our Starchild is buried in the Sudfriedhof of Wiesbaden, the same cemetery where the
Red Baron is laid to rest.  Having a place to visit has helped so much.
I'm not sure if it will ever go away, but I still feel a twinge of something when I hear the news that someone else is pregnant.  It's not anger.  A little jealousy and envy mixed together maybe, and yet I'm so happy for them.  The best part is getting to cuddle our friends' babies and whisper to them what a miracle they truly are!  

I was asked just a couple of weeks after we lost the baby if I was finished grieving.  The short answer at the time:  no.  The answer now:  no.  And while I'm on this, please don't ever ask that question of anyone who's suffered a miscarriage.

I will always grieve the loss of our child.  There will never be a time that I am finished.

To each of you who was there for us during that awful time, thank you.  To each of you who has held me as I've cried since, thank you.  To our family and friends who continue to encourage and support us, thank you.  To the kind German lady in the hospital waiting area who hugged me, cried with me, gave me her pack of tissues, and cradled my head against hers even though she didn't speak a word of English, thank you.  

Our time will come.  I have faith that my God hears me.  I will not lose hope that there will be a day that we, too, will welcome a child into this world.  Our Rainbow Baby will come.  One year later, and I can honestly say that we're okay.  

Dear Sweet Baby,

You made me a Mommy, and I was so overcome with happiness to carry you.  Daddy loved to talk to you and make funny noises for you.  You made me eat lots of pickles, and salad, and fries, and Tums.  You didn't like pork, which I found funny since you were with us here in the land of schweineschnitzel! 

Thank you for only making me throw up that one time!  Please know I would have gladly done it a hundred more times just to have a little more time with you.  

I will forever wonder who you would have been.  What you would have looked like.  What your favorite foods would have been.  Your first word.  Your best friend.  Your quirks. Your sense of humor.  I bet you would have been smart and funny like Daddy.  And I bet you would have had a Southern twang like Mommy.

I only carried you in my tummy for 12 weeks, Sweet Baby, but we will carry you in our hearts for a lifetime.  You will always be our first child.  You are our Sternenkind.


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Sunday, May 1, 2016

spring in germany

Guten tag, friends!  I've been MIA for a while, I know.  I haven't had the writing bug in quite some time, and unfortunately I've let our blog fall to the wayside.  Winters here are hard on me--not for the cold but for the lack of sunshine--but with all these sunny days lately I've been needing to write.  So here I am.  I hope yall can forgive me and join me here again in this familiar place that I love.  

Rich has spent a lot of time on work trips over the last few weeks.  I like that he gets to see new places on some of them, and I am also a bit jealous that he's seen countries that I haven't yet been to!  He's also been taking college classes through the University of Nebraska-Omaha since September.  Because of these two things, we haven't traveled together much in a while.  

Spring has really sprung in Germany and that means many things to those of us that call it our (temporary) home!  It means sneezing, slightly warmer weather with some blue skies, and beautiful scenery full of promise and bloom.

The beautiful, sunny days are my favorite thing.  Everything just looks happier.  My friend, Nicole, and I spent an afternoon this past week soaking in some sunshine with our cameras.  I love that she and I are both creative people who share a love of photography!  

I've been wanting to stop off at one of the many nearby rapeseed fields and get up close and personal with those bright yellow blooms that dominate the German landscape during the warmer months.  Rapeseed is used to make cooking oil and biodiesel fuel, and besides Germany it is also grown in China, Canada, India, and other European countries.

Finally, I got my chance to check it out, but it was a very windy and coldddd day.  I wasn't sure how these shots would turn out, but I was pleasantly surprised when I took a look.  

Later in the afternoon, I stopped by a local tulip field and spent some time in those muddy rows.  You can borrow one of the provided knives and cut your own tulips, then drop 0,45€ per flower into the lockbox on the honor system.  I love having fresh tulips around the house!

On this particular day, though--April 26--I only cut one white tulip because I had one more stop to make before heading home.  It was that day that marked a year since Rich and I found out we were expecting, and so I paid a visit to the Sudfriedhof where our little one is laid to rest.

To be honest, I was wary about going to the cemetery alone.  But this visit was different than all the ones before.  As I sat talking to our baby while the sunbeams moved lower through the trees, I was filled with peace and calm.  I know I will always grieve this child, but I'm beginning to feel myself healing.  I grabbed my camera and hung out a while longer in the Sternengarten...

Such a beautiful world we live in.

I hope you've enjoyed these photos!  Thank you for reading and spending a little time with us today.  I promise not to let so much time pass before we meet again!

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