Summer vacation 2013

We're back in The 'Ville tonight after a glorious 11-day vacation to our beloved Wisconsin. The kind of fun we had and the time we spent with family these last several days makes it especially hard to leave the state that has such a special place in our hearts.

It was a much-needed week of relaxation and solitude with no connection to the outside world. Staying up late and sleeping in. The days flew by.

The pace slows. We get caught up in the special moments, and time seems to stop.

The images imprinted during the week are priceless.

Now, it's back to the routine things, and I'm catching up on all of the news I missed while we were away. Homer Bailey pitched a no-hitter. The Celtics hired my doppelganger Brad Stevens, and it's the end of an era in Boston. And, tragically, 19 firefighters died in a fire fight in Arizona.

I've posted my reflections of Fun and Guster at Summerfest. Here's the story about the rest our travels ...

* * *

When we left for our vacation, Faye was still our baby, but we've returned with a full-fledged toddler who is walking and starting to build her vocabulary. The transformation began last Friday night, when we landed at my parents' place.

Faye had been pulling herself up, standing freely and climbing things for weeks, but she hadn't shown interest in taking any steps. Friday evening, however, I got her waddling while she held onto to me by one hand. I had a sense she was feeling stronger and more confident and said, "She's going to be walking tonight."

As we settled in and played with the girls, I stood Faye and slowly pulled away from her grip. She took a few tentative steps and eventually lunged for Kates sitting a few feet away from me. We did it again and again, and a few minutes later she was pushing herself up and walking on her own. It's one of the most amazing things to witness, and I was thankful my parents could be a part of it.

I was also thankful for another birthday cake. This time in the form of cupcakes. ...

* * *
We headed for The Farm Saturday afternoon. Kates and the girls fell fast asleep as we drove the hour north. As Phoebe's lullabies played on the iPod, I couldn't help but feel pride and total content as I looked at the girls sleeping in the rearview mirror.

As is tradition, we counted the eight barns from the interstate and pulled on to the gravel driveway of The Farm. The sun was bright. The air was breezy. As always, any cares we had were wiped away when we stepped from the car.

Phoebe went right for the porch and the vintage Fisher-Price toys. She had been looking forward to playing with those toys for days.

She also mined the video library for all of the Disney animated classics and stacked them up on the coffee table in a specific order she planned to watch them. First, all of the princess movies -- "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty," "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," "Pochahontas." Then, the animal movies -- "101 Dalmatians," "The Fox and the Hound," "The Lion King."

Kates and I tried to launch our Harry Potter marathon, but only managed to watch three of the seven films. And I missed No. 2 Thursday night because I went to Summerfest.

* * *
Sunday we attended one of the country churches down the road and went to the park afterward. Phoebe played on the playground. ...

And Faye just enjoyed the breeze in between practicing her walking. ...

All week,
Faye fell asleep
nearly every time
we traveled
in the car. ...

Sunday night, we cooked burgers and hot dogs over a fire and s'mores, too.

* * *

Monday, we played outside. ...

Monday night, Great Grandma P joined us for dinner. And Faye figured out she could pass off her food to the dog.

* * *
Tuesday, we drove to Wisconsin Dells, met Jessi and her kids, and took a boat tour ...

Then, we went to the outdoors-iest McDonald's any of us had seen for lunch. ...Where Phoebe broke down upon learning the painful lesson that inserting a quarter and playing the claw game doesn't always result in a toy.

Tuesday afternoon, Phoebe explored the farm yard with Grandpa and played on a hay bale. 

That night, we watched "A Little Princess" with Phoebe. It was a little scary for her - with the mean house mother Mrs. Minch, the images of war and the missing father - but she said afterward she liked the movie.

* * *

After a low-key, lazy day Wednesday, Kates' parents took her out to a play at the American Players Theatre for an early birthday present. Her dad purchased the last three tickets for the show, so I stayed back at The Farm with the girls. I cleaned the kitchen after our supper and then drove the girls into town so Pheebs and I could get some dessert at Dairy Queen. After I put Faye to sleep, Phoebe and I stayed up watching "Pinnochio" until the others came back.

* * *
Thursday was the Fourth of July. While I got my Guster fix, Kates, her parents and the girls headed to Uncle Rod's and Aunt Helen's for a picnic.

* * *
Friday morning, I left Milwaukee to rejoin everyone at The Farm. As I parked the car in the driveway and stepped out, I could hear Phoebe's excited screams inside. "Daddy's here!" Then she burst out the door, running barefoot at full speed across the front lawn, and nearly tackled me with a hug. Best homecoming ever.

That morning, Grandpa had taught her how to bale hay.

Friday evening, Kates and her mother headed back to Wisconsin Dells for some shopping. In the meantime, Grandpa and I took the girls to the Dells for an outing of our own. We took them to Timbavati Wildlife Park.

First, Phoebe took her first-ever go-kart ride. She was vnervous going in, and it went well for a few laps. Until she turned too sharply, crashed her car into the side rail and got stuck, prompting the track attendant to bail her out. After that, she just wanted out of the car.

Next, we took a vintage train ride through the yard for up-close views of ostrich, zebras, kangaroos and camels. Halfway through the journey, the train stopped in front of a herd of deer -- and a yak -- as they grazed in the yard. We armed ourselves with some carrots prior to the train ride, and the deer wasted little time strolling up to our train cars for a snack. At one point, Phoebe had three deer stretching for the carrots in her lap.

Later, Grandpa S. and I convinced her to take a ride with me driving the car on the advanced course. She agreed to it and loved it, shouting at me to go faster as we cruised the curves and hills. Having Phoebe riding next to me and seeing the glee on her face was priceless.

* * *

Yesterday morning, we left The Farm and started the first leg of our return south. We ended up in Lombard, Ill., last night for a visit with our old friends Ray, Leah and Audrey.

Lombard was having a carnival. And the hot menu item was "The Heart Attack," a plate piled high with greasy homemade chips covered with melted cheese and bits of bacon. With Kates' and Leah's assistance, we devoured the whole thing.   

After eating, the girls rode the carousel ... 

And when we returned to the house, they rode the tire swing ...

It was a memorable vacation.

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