Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 18, 2014

Our German kids

There are no high-energy sports drinks or cartons of Greek yogurt in the refrigerator or mounds of fruit or loaves of bread on the kitchen counter. In the bathroom, the hair dryer is back in the box and the bottles of shampoo and body wash are gone. The laundry room seems equally empty. No sports clothes or black leggings hang on the drying rack. And mornings and evenings are more hushed than recently.

In short, our house seems too quiet now, and husband Art and I miss our German "kids" Nadja and Tim. Nadja left in late April and Tim returned to Berlin a week ago, after an extended stay with us in Kansas. It was fun to have "kids" - if 25-year-olds can be called kids - in the house again after a few years of having an empty nest. Daughter Mariya graduated from high school in 2004 and Katie followed in 2011, so we had been accustomed to having the house to ourselves for some time now.

So how did Nadja and Tim become part of our family? Nadja was an exchange student who didn't come to us via the usual route. We had met her brother-in-law Matthias back in 1991, when Nadja was only 2 years old. Little did we know then that the chance connection with Matthias would lead to our getting to know Nadja and eventually Tim. Nadja stayed with us in 2005-2006 while she attended Riley County High School.

Nadja and Tim had started dating only a short time before she joined our family and we expected that the long-distance romance would cool. But it did not.

In 2007, we met Tim in Berlin. I think we were all kind of watching to see if we thought he was "good enough" for her. No, we aren't her parents, but try to tell that to your feelings. But we decided almost immediately that they matched well. They even celebrated their ninth anniversary of their meeting while they were with us this past April.

We have been fortunate that we've been able to spend time with the two of them every year since Nadja was with us. In 2008, they came to Kansas. They met my mother, my sister and brother and their families and Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay. We traveled to our cottage in Wisconsin's North Woods, where Tim met Art's mom and especially enjoyed outdoor activities such as tubing behind Art's cousin's boat.

The next year, we spent time with Nadja and Tim in Berlin and they also went with us when we visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

2010 gave us the opportunity to spend even more time with them. Nadja, who was then training to be a nurse, worked at our local Homecare and Hospice as an intern, and Tim did a bit of electronics work for Art. They also came with us to our cottage. They returned to Germany in the fall, but came back to Kansas as our Christmas surprise for Mariya and Katie. Both girls said their holiday visit was "the best Christmas present ever."

We returned to Germany in 2011, and Nadja and Tim joined our family on our trip to Great Britain in 2012. In 2013, they met us in Copenhagen for a few days and then we saw them again in Berlin. In the late summer that year, they flew to Wisconsin, where Tim learned to trout fish with Art. This pleased Art, as neither our girls nor I has wanted to get out in the brush to slog along streams. They then came home with us when we returned to Kansas.

In February, Nadja and Tim flew to Chicago, where they spent a week sightseeing. Art picked them up and brought them to Kansas. Tim, who is doing graduate work in airport management, began work as an intern at the Manhattan airport and Nadja helped care for Mom during her eight weeks of radiation for lung cancer. They helped us give Mom a great 90th birthday party in March, again getting acquainted with other family members and friends.

Nadja had to return to Berlin in late April, and she has been working steadily since at two jobs - one in nursing and one in quality assurance in health care management. Tim began working at the new airport in Berlin this past Monday.

Art and I know that the visits from now on will probably be few and far between. Mariya just started a new job and Katie is a senior at K-State and, with Nadja and Tim both working, it will be difficult to arrange times when we can all get together.

But Tim's recent "WhatsApp" message to us gives us hope that we'll be together again.

"... I love you both sooo much. I'm glad that I have a second family in the U.S. I mentioned that several times before, but you are the reason why Kansas feels like a second home to me!"

Upper left: July of 2008 at Mom's home. Nadja and Tim are behind Gaila's girls Larisa and Gabriela, Gaila, Katie, Gloria and Mariya; lower left: a highlight of Tim's stay with us this year was meeting Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder; middle: At our cottage in Wisconsin, Tim, Nadja and Nadja's bear Wisky - named after the state; right: since coming to America, Tim has become a real fan of American football and barbecue.

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