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This is Marla.  The girl, not the dog :)

We had the extraordinary privilege of having her stay with us over Fall Break last month.  She lives in Germany and is here as an exchange student for the year at the girls' school.

The girls all play soccer together and their district tournament began the Monday of FALL BREAK.  Why?!?  We had plans -- Kiawah Island! -- and so did Marla's host family (they were heading to Hilton Head).  Well. . .since the team is small (15 players maybe?) and Marie was one of the captains this year we HAD to stay behind to play. . .Marla got to stay with us!!

This picture is right before their first (and only) game of the tournament -- Marie, Marla, & Margaret.

The plan was to stick around for the weekend, play soccer Monday (we didn't figure we would move on) and then head out on Tuesday and still enjoy half a week at the beach.  Then Hurricane Matthew hit up the east coast and Kiawah Island evacuated.  So. . .we have a week off and an exchange student to share time with.  Not at the beach, unfortunately, but we stayed busy regardless!

I'm mostly writing this post for Marla's family.  I think they are amazing, although I may never meet them and her mother doesn't speak English :)  I'm hoping there's some translation something Google can do and, if nothing else, they can see the pictures and the JOY Marla brought to our family this Fall Break week.  I can't imagine, as a parent, sending my 15-yr-old daughter across the Atlantic Ocean to stay for the school year with a family I had never met.  Who doesn't speak my language even!!  Marla's host family is amazing - they have two little girls who adore her (for good reason) and her "American parents" are just great people.  And then, not only do her parents allow her to do all this -- I mean, the agency has checked out these people and school and background checks and all -- but THEN they say "yes" when a completely different family says, "can she travel with us over Fall Break?".  Wow.  I can't even. . .but I guess you trust the Lord, trust your daughter's judgment, and pray that she will have an experience that will never be matched.  I can't promise that we were able to provide that -- ha! -- but having her here with us for the week certainly made it a week to remember for us :)

First up on the list of "things to do":  The Saturday morning Farmer's Market in downtown Market Square.  I usually have to "pay" for my photos -- this one cost me sweets from VG's Bakery :)

Exploring. . .

This guy comes with his dog sometimes. . .he has him do tricks on the pedestal and then if you come up and give the dog a dollar (like the little boy is doing on the right), at the guy's command the dog will go and drop the money in the pot.  It is so cute!!

The next day our girls hosted a get-together for their soccer team -- a kind of "night before the tournament" get together/BBQ.  My girls also hosted one at the beginning of the season just to kind of bond together somewhere besides the soccer field.  I know I haven't had a chance to blog about our school year yet, but this team were the first people the girls met before deciding to attend CCS this year -- and the only thing they had to "go on" when making a final decision as to whether or not to change schools, again, this year.  A great group of girls.
And this team is where Marie and Margaret met Marla. . .she is in Marie's grade but the school is so small everyone seems to know everyone and mix up a lot.  Margaret is a freshman and Marie and Marla sophomores.

This BBQ was Sunday
Thanks for grilling!

Marie's idea - set up in the garage!!

S'mores at the grill. . .Margaret, Frederick, Marla

Just a great group of girls sitting around in the beautiful October sunshine "hanging out"

fun, joy, laughter, bonding, togetherness

Marla "fit right in" -- even pulling up a stool and enjoying conversation with our neighbors on a random weekend night.  She was so patient, answering question after question about her life in Germany, her command of the English language (it is phenomenal), what she likes, dislikes, misses, etc.

The reason we even "got to have" Marla for the week -- the BIG GAME.  I'm so proud of my captain, Margaret, and Marla.  They are standing in the back together, Marla in the orange shoes, then Margaret, then Marie (and another captain, Taylor).

It was a disappointing game -- we were not even able to get on the board.  This was a very good team (I think they were our first game of the season too) and by the end of the game the other team was  playing their JV squad.  This is only the 2nd year for our team and with only 200 students in the high school, pickings are slim.  Marie was able to practice her leadership skills and Margaret really honed her defensive skills.  Marla is a tennis player back home, and although she knows the game, this was just a fun outlet for her -- as it was for many of the other girls.  

The next day we picked up another soccer player friend and we all went hiking together here in Knoxville.  I can't say it enough -- these girls are the best.

It was nice having an extra hand with us -- Marla was able to get a picture of the 6 of us!!

German family, this is "us" -- the lucky ones who spent a week with your daughter. . .Thomas, Tom, Jenni, Frederick (she said he reminded her a lot of her little brother -- they are the same age too!), Marie, and Margaret.

This is a very sincere invitation -- I hope you come to stay with us sometime.  Anytime.  We'd love to know you.

This is the only picture I got of shopping day -- 5 or 6 hours!!  If you know Marie and I well at all, you know that is a sacrifice of love.  We took a break halfway through for a treat from the Cheesecake Factory -- we chose original with strawberry and a Nutella special they had that day.  They were both very good and "just enough" to keep us going.  I wish I had taken a picture of the cutest outfit Marla bought for the holidays.  I don't think she's really used to someone who takes the amount of photos that I do (and have really cut back on!)
The next day -- LAKE DAY!!  Our boat has been out of commission since the beginning of July and Tom & Thomas has just finished fixing it over the weekend. . .then we were lucky enough to have an eighty degree day in October!  How very, very lucky.  
Tubing was first on the list. . .

The kids did LOTS of tubing. . .in the above video that would be Marla getting dumped first, then Margaret.  In the below video you can hear Frederick say, "Marla's gone"!

Lunch on shore -- the lake was really, really low.  We usually tie up to that tree in the background!
After many, many rounds we spent some time on shore swimming, Tom and Frederick tried fishing, and of course I took a nap :)  Marla doesn't like dogs (but was a great sport and put up with ours all week) so Chelsea didn't make the trip with us to the lake this time.

 Thomas got some skiing and kneeboarding in too. . .

What a phenominal October day!  We were blessed to share it with someone :)

Then, as if we hadn't traveled enough with Marla (the first day she was with us we had doctor's appointments out-of-town, then the lake, which was two hours away). . .we decided to visit the Ark Encounter in Kentucky and then head to Ohio to see my mom, sister, and her family for the rest of the weekend!  Our German friend really racked up the miles with this Bell clan. . .

First up, though, was the incredible Ark Encounter!!  (Years ago we went to the Creation Museum - this was just a dream at the time.)  Seriously. . .you can't even imagine how massive Noah's Ark was and all the particulars that went into the final product.  I know I came away with more questions about everything because they make you think of so many details that just don't "come up" in the Bible story. . .

When we pulled up to the parking lot, this is how far away the ark is -- you buy your tickets then take a shuttle up. . .even at a distance it is awe-inspiring.

Here it is as you get off the shuttle and walk up to it. . .

I was getting a picture of our gang (Margaret went on a church retreat for the weekend so we were down a kid -- ha!) and a group of ladies from Michigan came by and offered to get us all in the picture :)
It was, as per usual in northern KY/southern OH, cloudy and that day windy and chilly too.  Hard to believe we had been on the lake two days before!!

I don't want to overwhelm with pictures so here are just a few. . .
 This is what I mean about "more questions" as you go through. . .like, I never thought of all the provisions Noah's family would have had to take on board -- for themselves and the animals!!!  The above picture are just hundreds (??) of pots to store water. . .and then there would have been food to think about, medical supplies of some kind. . .all sorts of things for something like this.

I forget how many decks this had (3?) -- the place is just massive

Lots of people were taking pictures by the sealed doors -- my people weren't around by the time I got there.  Seriously, we spent an hour or so exploring, went across the campus to eat (out of the ark), then came back and spent at least another two hours.  There was so much to read and see. . .an absolute "must do" if you are ever in the area.
 Many, many scenes had been carefully put together to try to illustrate the family and documented events in the Bible.  Another interesting thing that the creators did was make up backgrounds for Noah's sons and their wives. . .just a little something to tell the story as authentically as possible.

There was so much time and care and research that went into the animals, species, and such. . .no pictures here (its overwhelming how much there is!) but if that is interesting to you, again, this is a must-see attraction.

Last picture -- the museum had numerous ancient scrolls and text on hand or lent to them.  Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the plaque, but this one was in an air-controlled case with a docent stationed outside to tell you not to use flash-photography because that could damage the piece.
That night we took Marla to a favorite pizza place (no pictures -- boo!) and then off to meet my family.  The girls, Tom, and I stayed with my mom and the boys went to Aunt Jodi's house.  My littlest niece was giving a piano concert for us and Marla got in on the recital too!!!  Wish I would have videoed her playing -- she did a great job for not having played since leaving Germany in August.  (She also told Uncle Brian that the piano needed tuning -- ha!)

The next day we were up-and-at-em to head to Kings Island!  Again, no "touristy" pictures up front. . .I'm losing my edge from lack of blogging I guess.
Here is some of Marla's fun day:

Marie, Susan, Marla

Marla is in the black sweatshirt and Marie beside her.  Frederick and Susan are in front. . .
I have to give Marla LOTS of kudos for this next ride -- it was a swing that twirled high in the air -- and she hates heights.  She only did it once, but what a good sport to even do that!!

The older kids (Thomas, Marie, and Marla) ended up staying for a few extra hours after we left. . .and we left at 8 p.m.!!  These two, Susan and Frederick, had done all they wanted to do for the day :)
KI was having a special "Fright Night" or something and I swear, the park was more packed at 8 p.m. then it was at 2 p.m.!!!  The first few hours were there the lines were short -- we basically walked on to everything. . .as the day went on the lines got longer -- some were as long as 1.5 hours.  The "big" kids, in the 2+ hours that they stayed after we left, only rode one ride.  That was disappointing, I know.  They got close to the front of an hour-long line and the ride shut down (a lot of them were doing that that day -- I don't know why but it was a little more than annoying) and then they waited over an hour for another one.  They said it was worth it, to ride at night with all the lights on and such so there is that.  Aunt Jodi and Uncle Brian even had dinner for them when they got home, complete with an outside fire :)  A near-perfect Ohio day.  If we would have had more time we could have done the hayride and pumpkin patch but as it was, Tennessee and school were calling.

This was an incredible week with a girl we will never forget.  We had so much fun with her and hope to meet her wonderful parents some day.
Margaret, Marla, R
Our neighbor had a little fun with a picture he took of her too:

 Ich liebe dich!


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