Thursday, 3 September 2015

July and August in England...and in Wisconsin

This post was written on Monday, August 24, 2015.

It’s 10:30 am and I’m filling the French press for the second time this morning and hoping that this second pot of coffee will help rid me of the hazy fog that fills by brain.  Leah is still fast asleep in my bed and I need to wake her or she’ll never get to sleep tonight.  Ellie is curled up on the couch quietly playing on the Ipad, our early riser having just gotten up less than an hour ago herself.  I check my email and there’s a message from Eric at work.  He woke up at 1:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I bet he wishes he could share this second pot of coffee with me. 

Yesterday we returned from a four-week visit with family and friends in the US.  Today we are all paying the price for the six-hour difference in time between here and Wisconsin.  Traveling back to the UK is hard because it requires an overnight plane ride, and with the time difference, Saturday night was only a few hours long for us.  And sleeping on the plane just never seems to happen.  We all sat blurry-eyed in the Amsterdam airport yesterday morning watching the sunrise and waiting for our short flight back to England.  We were back home by 10:30 am, the entire day before us, but all we wanted to do was sleep. 

When we first moved here to England back in September, two years seemed to stretch endlessly before us, creating mixed feelings of excitement and anticipation at all we could see and do in this new country over that time, but also overwhelming us with homesickness for all that is familiar to us that we would miss from home over these long two years.  Now, we only have 11 months left here and the feeling is very different.  We are comfortable with our lives here in the UK, having long since accepted the differences we’ve had to adjust to and embraced all the new wonders we’ve gotten to experience.  But 11 months suddenly sounds so short and there is a bit of pressure to make sure we see all the things we want to see before leaving Europe.  Our time here suddenly feels like a great countdown. 

What does this all have to do with the July and August in England post?   I don't know - nothing really, except for the fact that this last week of August is really the beginning of our last year living in England.  And the month of July and first three weeks of August that seemed to have just whizzed by in the blink of an eye, they were spent both in England and the USA.  So let's go back several weeks to the beginning of July and I will really share July and August in England...and in Wisconsin.

The girls finished school on July 10, extremely late by US standards.  Here they are on the last day of their first year of school in England, finishing Year 2 and Year 5 (first and fourth grades in US terms).  

While finishing school in July seems strange to the mind, it really didn’t feel that different here when all the children are still in school until then.  It’s just what you do in England.  

The year ended with a field day where the girls and their classmates split up into four teams to complete in various crazy activities.  Ellie was in the dress up running race.

Leah was in the sack race.

See the little redhead in the middle?  That's Leah cheering her mates on.

And the last race which Ellie participated in was this crazy race which required three kids to really work in sync together.  

They stood on two boards, and holding onto the ropes you see in the picture above, the three of them had to walk in sync to the finish line.  It was extremely hard and challenging, and did I mention hilarious to watch.  

At the end of the day, all the Year 6 students were honored, as they would be heading off to middle school next year.  Tears were shed as some of these students have been attending this tiny village school for seven years now.  That’s a huge part of your life when you are only eleven years old.   They would be leaving behind friends and teachers they had spent most of their lives with so far.

As soon as school got out, we jumped in the car and headed to Ireland for a week.   

Oh how I fell in love with the emerald isle!  Wonderful people and amazing sights.  I’ll share more on that trip with you in the next week or two so check back.

After a quick four-day break back at home in England, we jumped on a plane and headed to the US for four weeks of family, friends and fun.  That's our little diva Ellie on the long plane ride taking a nap, with my pillow!  

On Friday, July 24 we touched down in Minneapolis and after ten months of living abroad, it was great to be back in the good ol U S of A.  I like England and all, but I really missed wide roads, Jimmy Johns and hot weather.  

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had basically four weeks to do nothing but visit and play.  And eat – 28 days of dessert because when other people are feeding you, they always want to feed you dessert (too bad they didn’t offer to buy some bigger pants for me too).  It felt like a summer from my youth - no deadlines, no work, no lunches to make for summer camp.  Those four weeks stood wide open before us and boy did we have fun. 

We felt like gypsies while in Wisconsin, staying at six different houses over the course of the four weeks.  What did we fill our days with for four straight weeks?  Well, let me see...

It was hot so we went swimming a few times. 

Thank you Justine and Andy for having a pool and sharing it with us.

We haven't seen a pool in quite some time.  We have stayed in a lot of hotels over the past year, all around Europe, and only once did we stay at one that had a pool, and it was in the basement and felt like you were in a cave.  They just don't seem to commonly have pools in your standard hotels here in Europe, but they do have very good breakfasts!

Let's see, what else did we do?  We spent a day shopping with the ladies in the family, and we attended a family reunion where I saw cousins I grew up with but haven’t seen in nearly 20 years.  I spent a gorgeous summer day floating around a beautiful lake on a pontoon catching up with friends I've known my entire life.  We ate at all the places we’ve missed eating at for the past year.  We spent lazy afternoons hanging out on my parents farm, watching horses in the pasture and running across the tops of long rows of hay bales sitting in the field.  

There was swinging and scooter riding, and we snuck peas and cherry tomatoes from that veggie garden you see behind the girls (thank you Sheryl and Bob, and thank you John for the cucumbers we snuck from your garden too).   We drank too many cups of coffee and maybe a few glasses of wine on my sister’s big porch.  We spent a rainy afternoon watching endless episodes of Kitchen Crashers.

We spent a swelteringly hot day at the county fair, which is exactly how a day at the county fair should feel.  We played with all the new dogs that seemed to have suddenly appeared in our family members lives.  

The girls went horseback riding at the Gough Ranch.

They both trotted for the first time...

and then Anna (lifelong friend and horse instructor extraordinaire) unhooked the lead rope and stepped outside the coral (notice she is now behind the fence in this picture - was I nervous - nahhhhhh...well, maybe) and they rode completely by themselves for the first time - just the girl and the horse.  

Ellie made a new friend.

That's Anna's son George.  They sat on the fence together while Leah was riding like two old pals, shooting the breeze about all things related to Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

Continuing on with our summer in Wisconsin list, we went dorm room shopping with my niece Taylor who was heading off later in August to her first year at college away from home.  We got to meet the newest member of the family – a baby goat.  

This is quite possibly the cutest tiny creature I have ever seen.  

Buttons - her name is buttons... because she's as cute as a button!  And after meeting Buttons we made s'mores by the fire as we watched the stars come out.  

Towards the end of the four weeks we headed up north to Eric's parent's cabin on a lake where Ellie and Leah got to catch up with their cousins from that side of the family too.  They all jumped into grandpa's truck and headed out to the wilderness for some wild blueberry picking.

There was fishing of course...

 although not much was caught out on the lake.

But that was okay...

it was mostly about just being out in the boat with grandpa anyway...

and having an excuse to put your hands in the water.

We went canoeing and out for walks while at the cabin.  And I read a lot.  Eric taught the girls how to play cribbage.  Ellie worked on her knitting skills.  Grandma had taught her how to knit a couple weeks early when we were at her house.   

And we got to see all of our family except for a handful of nieces and nephews who were in other parts of the world or state during our visit (we missed you all!).  
Generally we spent four weeks playing – a lot!  And having a ball.  We are blessed!

I leave you today with a few last pictures of our summer vacation, one last thing we did during our time in Wisconsin.  It's a long tradition in our family to go for drives along the Mississippi River, so one day we hopped into the car with mom, dad and Auntie and off we went.  

Along the way, we stopped at a few magical places that I remember visiting as a child, and now I got bring my own children there.  

Our first stop was the site where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born near Pepin.  Leah stood in front of this big board and read every word.  For the rest of our stay in Wisconsin, she was on the search for the Little House in the Prairie books.

We stopped at Larks Toys with their amazing collection of new and old.  The girls signed their guestbook.  They giggled at the fact that for one summer they can visit the USA and put down that they are from the UK, and maybe be the farthest traveled visitors for that day. 

Late in the afternoon we passed through the little town of Stockholm which sits on the shores of Lake Pepin.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  We had to stop at the park to get a closer look at the water.  Mom, the girls and I headed down a rocky pier that jugs out into the Lake, and when we returned to the car, we saw a sight I have never seen in my 42 years here on earth... 

My dad riding a bicycle.  And right behind him - Auntie.

They looked like kids peddling around the parking lot.  Of course mom had to join in too...

and there just happened to be a kids size bike on the rack as well, so Leah hopped on and away she went with her grandma and great aunt.   

Oh we laughed and smiled, and maybe got a little nervous too hoping no one crashed.  And if biking riding wasn't enough, we had to head to the playground too.  

Mom climbed the jungle gym.   

Dad found a swing.

And then everyone piled onto the merry-go-round, Leah gave a good push, and around they went, giggling like children.  It brings a smile to my facing just thinking about how much fun the youngest kids in our family had playing with the oldest kids.  And that was our summer break - fun, sun, and family!  

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