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As you open this newsletter, I’m in my VW bus driving my dad to France.  I know, I know, poor me.  But I’m dreading it all the same.  This past week has been such an incredible whirlwind, I think life always is, but this week has been extra whirlwind-y.

It started with one of those phone calls, ones no one likes to get. My uncle (Kees, age 82) had passed unexpectedly from a massive stroke.  82 is not normally unexpected, but Oom Kees was very active in mind & body.  As Dane said at the funeral, looking at his photo,

“He looks so young.  Why did he die?”  Regardless of age, death is a loss and I miss him.  He will always be in my heart, he was a kind, gentle man.  The kind of uncle always willing to stop & play, to read a story, to climb the cherry tree out back with us.  He was the uncle who explained the tough stuff, who answered endless questions about life, and death.  He was the uncle I needed last Friday to answer all of Dane’s questions.

The phone call was hard.  The drive up to Holland was long (Dave was out of town, and it was just me & the younger kids).  The funeral was beautiful, and sad.  Seeing so many of my family members in one spot was a wonderful, treasured bonus.  My dad flew out from North Carolina, and then drove home with me and the kids on Sunday.  When he leaves tomorrow to visit my sister in France, my house will have a very empty spot.  Having him here, staying just down the hall, even for only three nights, makes it feel like home.  I’m going to hate driving back without him.

His visit is much shorter this time, partially because it wasn’t planned, and partially because my mother is having a birthday next week.  Celebrating a birthday alone is no fun.  How I wish we could all fly back with my dad and surprise her!  Thankfully we did spend a wonderful day in Maastricht shopping for her birthday.  She’s getting a fantabulous statue of Saint Servatius, patron Saint of the city of Maastricht.  I got a clock!

I got a wonderful, kitsch-extraordinaire, faux French clock that says “Rue d’Antoinette” on it. I’m in love.  I don’t care it’s faux, I care it says “Antoinette” and fits perfectly on my wall.  And my dad bought it for my birthday (in September LOL).  And that Cole got stuck lugging it through Maastricht for most of the day in exchange for a pair of real, Dutch, yellow, wooden clogs.  Clogs he wore down the streets of Maastricht, while busloads of tourists snapped his photo. Saturday was a perfect day.


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Quick disclaimer, that is not our van, it is not us, and everyone got out without harm or injury.  Looking at the photo now, it is hard to tell that was a full-size (albeit a smaller one) RV (recreational vehicle or camper).  On Monday all the kids, and even Dave, had the day off & we finally took a trip to LEGOLAND. It is an amazing place, and I promise to babble more on Saturday, but our drive up to LEGOLAND was an adventure in itself.

LEGOLAND is just over an hour away, why we’ve never gone, being the lego lovers we are, I’ll never know.  But we finally went Monday morning!  We stuffed our three youngest, and a friend for Cole (that way he could explore the park on his own, but not alone), in Veronica and happily got under way.  The weather was freezing, but promised to warm up  and the roads were clear.  A miracle in Germany.  Dave drove and I sat next to him, happily babbling along.  I love whole days with Dave.  I have a lot of words to babble in person.  Suddenly Dave slowed down;

“Uh-oh!” Alarmed I looked up and immediately spotted the RV in front of us pulling over, sparks, maybe flames, under the engine.
“Should I pull over?” Dave asked; “it’s a Dutch license plate.” Honestly, we would have pulled over no matter the nationality of the driver, but Dutch people do have a special place in my heart.  Dave was barely stopped when I jumped out of the car, over the divider and started running towards the now-visibly flaming RV.  A man and a woman were out and staring in shock as flames first licked out from under the engine, then up the front of the hood.

“Are you okay?  Is everyone out?” I yelled in Dutch.  Yes, everyone was out & not hurt. It was just the two of them. I ran over to hug the shaking woman, and dialed ‘ 112‘ on my phone (our 911).  The dispatcher already knew about the fire, and she knew my exact location without me saying much more than “feuer!”. Right then the milk truck that had pulled over with us, backed up to right in front of the flaming vehicle.  We watched in surprise as he pulled out a big hose, attached it to the milk carrier and started pumping it out fast & furiously onto the flames.  Sadly, to no effect.  The flames continued to grow, engulfing the cab, and reaching to the back.  Within minutes the whole RV was ablaze.  I frantically started yelling for everyone to back-up, terrified of an explosion hurting those so close to the fire, so close to the RV.

Dave reassured me it was a diesel, and I learned diesel does not explode like gasoline, but the husband added they had two propane tanks for cooking on board.  Just then one of the tired blew, loud!  Everyone moved back & the first rescue vehicle arrived on scene.  Both sides of the autobahn were thankfully closed, as the rest of the RV was engulfed in flames.  Five fire trucks arrived and multiple hoses were dousing the RV in minutes.  Those guys move fast.  In the photo, you can see the smoke billowing out.  The fire chief had us evacuate all the kids out of our van, and over by the rescue vehicles.  The smoke was toxic and though Veronica  was parked far away, well out of reach of the fire, the smoke was infiltrating even through closed windows.

I wish we’d thought to video the kids hopping through the muddy, soft, fields.  The grass (wheat?) was quite high and they looked like bunnies trying to get well-around the fire and to the fire trucks. I helped the older couple talk to the fire chief, and then the police detective.  Both were in shock, and finally the rescue squad took them inside one of the vehicles.  I gave them Dave’s cell phone, told them not to worry and make all the calls they needed.  We gave our statements to the police as well, and our address.  By the time that was finished the fire was out, the smoke dissipated and we could return to Veronica and continue on to LEGOLAND.  The RV had burned to a mere shell in less than fifteen minutes.  Fire is insanely scary.

We did have a great day!  It did warm up.  And at the end of the day, on the way home, I called Dave’s cell phone.  Maaike answered right away, her voice much calmer, happy to hear from me.  They were both fine.  Thanks to Dave’s phone they had been able to call family, and insurance.  They were in a hotel, with a rental car being delivered in the morning.  They were going back home.  We talked a bit longer, and it is entirely possible we have some new friends.

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It has been craziness over here.  Craziness that finally ended around midnight last night when we got home from our last night at fest (Frühlingsfest).  We had a big change-of-command here at the Stuttgart Garrison. That requires the official pomp & circumstance ceremonies, as well as the unofficial meet & greets.  I’ve smiled, made small talk, and promised BBQ’s to way too many people.  For now, I’ve got peace, quiet and my computer calling my name.

The very best part of this past week was Drowning Pool.  I am an unapologetic heavy metal fan.  I just like it loud & crazy.  It might also explain my six kids.  It seems like more than coincidence. Drowning Pool came to Stuttgart as part of the USO Tour to the troops.  I am forever grateful to the USO’s efforts to keep our spirits up.  It means the world to know we still matter when so many benefits are being cut.  Thank you.

Our last, big, free, treat had been Cirque Dreams.  A treat I waited almost an hour, in the freezing cold, to get tickets for.  Knowing how many people went to that, I went very early to the Drowning Pool ”line”.  There wasn’t a line!  Heavy metal on a school night = no huge, pushing throng!  Even better, we got to go inside & watch rehearsal….and meet the band. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

These guys impressed the heck out of me.  They were kind, friendly, well-mannered and so patient as they posed for pictures and let the kids (Cole & his friends) & one mom (me) beg for more and for autographs.  Later CJ (bassist not pictured here) even joined us for pulled-pork sandwiches out front.  It does not get much better than that.

It did get a little better for Tess. She was singled out late in the concert to get a drumstick from drummer Mike Luce!  After the concert all the guys signed it for her.  She has a worse case of stars in her eyes than Marcia Brady ever did for Davy Jones.


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by Toiny Westberry 30 January 2013
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