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Camp bliss

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Our annual vacation at family camp in northern Wisconsin did not disappoint.

The week felt like this:

And so it was no surprise that coming home initially went like this:

"I want to go baaaaack." Evidence of a great vacation.

Tea really came out of his shell this year and played hard from sunrise to starlight with the gaggle of other kids.  When the playground is water and sand and forest, the play is easy because toys to fight over are scarce (although Tea was so enamored of his favorite walking stick I had him paint it in the craft building so he could keep it for himself).  He also made many adults friends – he’s gained a lot of confidence in the last year and it was fun seeing him having engaging conversations about fire stations and how to make a unicorn sign with your hand.

Pea was thrilled to follow Tea wherever he went, and wasn’t bothered at all that we were suddenly sleeping in a new place and sharing our meals in a room with 100 other people.  Our laid back kid dove right in and loved every minute.  Especially the minutes involving s’mores.

Kyle and I didn’t manage to steal any alone time this year, but we did take Pea around the lake in a canoe a few times while Tea was in morning class.  A pair of loons surfaced so close to our canoe that Kyle could have clobbered them with his paddle.  If he’d been insane.  They were beautiful, and were calling right at us.  I was amazed at how big they were.  Pea, thinking they were ducks, was unimpressed, although he did repeatedly tell us they made a “pretty noise”.   Another morning a flock of 9 loons all appeared just off shore, all calling to each other.

The bald eagles who nest right in camp were equally noisy.  It was a constant showdown between the loons and the eagles for noisiness.  I’ll take that racket any day.

Kyle and the boys went sailing with my dad.  The little sunfish looked a bit like a clown car, but Tea was enormously proud that he was the “captain” and held the tiller the whole time.

Tea did have one disastrous crash onto the sidewalk that scraped away a good amount of skin from his face, but the mothering he got from his friends (little and big alike) clearly restored his spirits.  Long after the blood had dried, he was still solemnly walking around camp, letting all of the little girls hold his hand and baby him.  I was a almost worried he liked the attention too much and might try to injure himself again on purpose.

We hiked, we swam, we played silly games with marshmallow peeps, we read.  We made new friends and talked with kind and wise people.  We star-gazed and built things in the sand and paddled and sipped coffee in the cool morning air.  Some of us sang (and some prefer to observe the singing).  I learned what a merganser is when a flock of them dashed through the swimming area.  We danced and caught fish and snuggled and drummed in a circle and blew bubbles and caught frogs.  We relaxed.  Standing at Vesper Point overlooking the lake, Kyle and I held the kids and renewed our marriage vows to each other.  Next year, I’m hoping the kids can stay up a bit later so we parents of wee-ones can play some late-night noisy games in the lodge.

Hopefully we are recharged and refreshed enough to get us through the year until we can go back to Moon Beach again.

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Camp

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I’ve been without internet access in the north woods of Wisconsin – four generations of our family spent the week at family camp together.  For perhaps 20 years of my life, starting at age 2, we’ve gone together.  I love that my sister and I are continuing the tradition for our kids.

At camp Moon Beach, circa 1983

Tea's cousin Cricket with her proud Great-Grandma

We relished the relaxing break of having someone else prepare our meals and wash our dishes.  We had fun swimming (sometimes 3 times a day) in a clear lake, hiking through woods and bogs, canoeing, sailing, blowing bubbles, toasting marshmallows, star gazing, singing songs, puddle-stomping, square dancing, fishing, playing silly games, eating too much ice cream, and watching eagles, loons, and deer.  Most of all, we enjoyed spending time with our family and our camp family.

Tea sailing with his Granddad

Tea was a mean Pass the Pigs player

Grandma rolled an impossible 100 Pass the Pig points in *one hand*

This was Tea’s second year there, and he really thrived on the chance to interact with other kids and play more independently than last year.  He attended his morning classes without a backwards glance at us.  This is by far the easiest, most relaxing way to vacation with small kids that I can imagine.  There were always kid-friendly choices of things to do and great people to help watch Tea.  And as if that’s not enough, Kyle and I had a wonderful time, too.  At the end of the week, Tea didn’t want to come home.  I didn’t either.

Rachel, my hero, square danced with Tea

Tea and his partner in crime, moments before he got *very* wet

Bubbles on a windy day with 100% humidity

I'm so glad I packed those boots

I’m telling myself that we’re now refreshed, recharged, and ready to face the start of a busy school year (for Kyle, and therefore by extension, for Tea and I), but I still don’t quite feel ready to say goodbye to summer.

Tea played hard and slept even harder

Goodbye, Belgium

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Bedankt voor de mooie herineringen.  We’ll miss you until we meet again.

Wednesday, travel edition

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Dear Courtney,

Well, it had to happen eventually, and today was probably the best day for it to happen – our beautiful warm sunshiny weather turned cold, rainy, and decidedly more Belgian.  I suppose that should make it easier to come home.

We had planned a day of bumming around Leuven today.  Rain I don’t mind.  Fifty degree weather I don’t mind.  But 50 degree rainy weather isn’t so fun to hang around outside in, so we changed our plans.

We spent the day at one of the rare malls in Belgium with Chris, Elke, and the girls.  We did some fun shopping (I know, fun and shopping aren’t usually in the same sentence for me, but I liked the European equivalent of Target, and got Tea a nice “American Football – what matters is the final score” t-shirt because it made us laugh for reasons we couldn’t quite explain.)

We were finally able to enjoy fresh warm sugar waffles that had heretofore eluded us on this trip.  Remind me to break out the recipe for these once we’re back home.  They are unlike any waffle you’ve eaten and bear zero resemblance to the gross stuff places like IHOP serve for breakfast under the guise of a Belgian waffle.  Honestly, whenever I see them listed on American menus I get riled up and feel I need to defend my Belgium’s honor.  Belgians would never eat such gross concoctions as cardboard-tasting waffles with fake whipped cream and canned strawberries.  (Although since recently learning of my sister’s devotion to Subway, I may need to rethink my impression of their sophisticated palate – sorry Elke!  😉 )

For dinner I died and went to heaven – asparagus op z’n vlams  (white Flemish asparagus with eggs), steak arabiata (which translates to angry meat? but it makes me  *sooooo* happy), and tiny potatoes roasted with rosemary from their garden.  We may or may not have polished off the bottle of limoncello tonight.  I’m not saying.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many delicious foods all in one week.

It was neat tonight to hear Hanna start to speak a bit of English.  If we stayed a month, I think both Elke and I would have bilingual kids.  I’m threatening to put up a tent in their backyard so we can stay longer without being a burden.  But Tea was fairly crabby and uncooperative today – I think that it’s probably good that we’re heading home tomorrow morning.  He needs his regular routine back.

Please think sleepy, happy, compliant thoughts in Tea’s direction tomorrow – it’s going to be a long day.  Kyle is wondering if we’ll make it through the weekend without seeing you.

Tuesday, travel edition

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Dear Courtney,

Hooray for the invasion of Thai ingredients in stores around the world! Can you imagine trying to find traditional Scandinavian ingredients in Kenya?  Traditional Peruvian ingredients in Hungary?  And yet, Thai ingredients were as easy to obtain here in Belgium as they are in Wisconsin.  Well, all except the kaffir lime leaves and Singha beer, but I cannot complain.

Elke was our savior today, as she shuttled us to several stores to stock up on supplies to make a Thai feast this evening.  We had planned on doing it ourselves with the bus, but 5 heavy bags of food later (including SEVEN! cans of coconut milk), we were grateful we had easier transportation.  Kyle and I cooked for nearly 7 hours, but we took our time and had a few breaks with Belgian refreshments.  I am ever so grateful for my gas stove at home – I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable cooking with an electric one, but at least nothing burned.

We made soup (coconut milk-red curry-mushroom-shrimp-lemongrass), green chicken curry, and a noodle dish with lots of veggies.  For dessert, we had mangoes with sticky rice and coconut milk sauce.  We made enough food for a small army and I fear my Belgian family will be eating frozen Thai leftovers for the next half century.

I’m amazed at how at ease Tea is here now.  When Chris got home from work today he followed her around the house, chatting and asking her questions.  He snuggled in her lap to listen to a CD of Belgian kid’s music and didn’t budge until it was over.  Today he thanked Kyle and I for bringing him to Belgium, and he asked Chris if he can come back again.  He’s picking up more and more Dutch words, and is now correcting me (accurately) on pronunciations – I never would have imagined it.  The adorableness is just oozing off of him.  It’s going to be hard to leave.

We will miss you at playgroup tomorrow.  Have fun and say hi to everyone for us.  We promise to be back next week, and Tea may try to smuggle in a little chocolate for the kids (before noon, L 😉 ).

Monday, travel edition

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Today’s Belgian adventure was a trip to Limburg province (birthplace of the ultimate stinky cheese) to visit Bokrijk.  It’s a historical open-air museum, similar to what I imagine Old World Wisconsin must be like, but as I am not a tourist at home, I keep forgetting to actually visit OWW.  Bokrijk, on the other hand, I have now been to 4 times, which is only one less than the number of times I’ve been to Belgium.

I love it.  It’s beautiful and shaded with huge trees and dotted with old farms and houses and churches and shops.  The buildings are original and moved on-site when they get in the way of modern progress.  The park is set up with 3 separate villages (from different parts of Belgium), with long relaxing walks through the woods between them.  There are also, of course, places to sit and enjoy a Belgian beer.

We watched spinners, ceramicists, and felt makers in period costume demonstrate their crafts.  Spinning always looks so easy when someone else does it.  Tea was crazy for the street musicians and marching bands.  My favorite was the goose parade.  We rode around the park in a horse-drawn cart at the end of the day.

For dinner we enjoyed a Belgian fast-food dinner from a frietkot.  They sell fries in huge paper cones, and a wide assortment of fried snacks – all varieties of sausages, meat on a stick, breaded meat, and breaded cheese, and a plethora of sauces to dunk it all in.  The fries are amazing and unlike anything we can get at home.  I’m actually grateful that we don’t have frietkoten in Wisconsin, because they’d be even harder for me to avoid than the donuts I give in to on the way to playgroup each week.  YUM.

Sunday, travel edition

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Dear Courtney,

Happy Birthday!  (Do I have the right day?)  I wish I was there to celebrate with you, but I thought of you during our own party here.

Today my AFS family hosted an open house and invited some friends and family I knew from 15 years ago.  It was a potluck dessert afternoon – the potluck concept is apparently quite rare here, but we all had fun eating a lot of sugar.  Kyle baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies by request.  It’s amazing that a country with some of the best bread and pastries in the world doesn’t have chocolate chip cookies.  It’s little things like this that make it slightly easier to live in the United States.  🙂

People told me that I haven’t changed, but it was amazing that none of them have either.  Everyone looked just the same, and it was wonderful to chat and catch up a bit.

Tea didn’t know how lucky he was to have five little girls to play with today.

We learned some outdoor games – one was called 1,2,3 piano and it reminded me of red light-green light.  Another, shown here, involved the kids trying to get past the dads but I never caught the name or exactly what the girls were singing.We capped off the evening with the usual here on the Weygenstraat – espresso, limoncelo, chocolate, and conversation until we realize it’s nearing the next day.  Can you believe Kyle was up until  11pm?  It’s only because his body is still on US time, but I’ll take it!

In other news, today, for the first time on this trip, Tea asked when we are going home.  He is enjoying himself immensely, but it’s good to know he still misses home and our routine.