Our summer vacation

Just once I would like to ease into a vacation. Instead, we're usually loaded with activities and projects in the days leading up to our vacations to the point that we're staying up until 1 a.m. to pack the night before and then waking at 7 or 8 in the morning to tie up loose ends, pack the car and get on the road.

Friday morning we were aiming to leave around 9:30, but that turned into 11. Then, we were halfway through town when we realized we had forgotten phone chargers and turned the car around to head back to the house. After our stop back at the house and a stop at the Casey's for gas and drinks and we were finally leaving The 'Ville around 11:30.

The long road trips with the girls seem to get more fun every time we go. We got the music going, and Phoebe requested Anna Kendrick's "Cups," which led to an all-family singalong of the song. Twice. ... Later, we pulled out the portable DVD player to entertain the girls. They watched "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and one of Faye's new favorites a Barney DVD that Phoebe used to watch incessantly.

* * *

The conversation and games we play are always amusing, too. Phoebe's quote of the day came as we were reflecting on our packing trials and Phoebe's unwillingness to sleep into the morning hours: "I wanted to sleep in today, but then I was awake and I was like, 'Oh, I feel so good. I have to get up!'"

After our supper stop and we had begun our final stretch to The Farm, Kates suggested playing "We're going on a trip ..." in which the participants suggest an item to pack for the trip, using every letter of the alphabet. The hook is that the participant adding an item to the list must also recite all of the previously added items in alphabetical order. So that kept Phoebe, Kates and I occupied for a good 15 to 20 minutes, and here's our list:

Aeriel shirt
Hot dogs
Opera singing octopus
Q tips
Twix bar
X ray of a xylophone

* * *

We stopped at a Target in Des Moines to find a toddler-sized air mattress for Faye. We bough that   along with a new iPhone car mount (because our previous one is defunct), a Lego storage box for Phoebe (an item we've been trying to find for quite some time), batteries (we're always in need of those), sparklers (for the Fourth of July) and coloring books. 

Not far beyond Des Moines, we hit a wall of storm clouds and spent almost the rest of our time in Iowa driving through pelting, blinding rain while streaks of lightning flashed in front of us. We finished passing through the storms as we approached Dubuque and settled for a supper break at a McDonald's around 6:30. Kates had proposed eating at an Arby's near the river downtown one of our go-to stops over the years for my birthday, but I decided McDonald's sounded better. Plus, the girls could blow off some energy on the playland and I could use the free wifi. 

We were on the road again about 7:30 and celebrated our pass over the Mississippi River and entrance to Wisconsin. We passed through the breathtaking bluffs and over the winding country roads always my favorite of the drive and pulled up to The Farm shortly after 9:30 p.m. Friday.  

Once the car was unpacked and we were settled, we wasted little time going to bed. Kates and I were in our usual queen bed, Faye was at the foot of our bed on her new air mattress and Phoebe slept on a cot beside my side of the bed. Cozy seemed like an understatement.

* * *
Saturday was Grandpa and Grandpa S's retirement gathering at The Farm. 

Kates woke me up at 8:30 and reminded me the guests were going to begin arriving about 11 a.m., which meant I needed to get out of bed and help Grandpa set up the yard. ... I got dressed and met Grandpa and his handyman to set up a series of picnic tents and canopies and tables and chairs.

As the guests began arriving, I just tried to stay out of the way. Soon enough, my parents, aka Grandma and Grandpa H, arrived and I called Phoebe and Faye to meet them with me. I hadn't told the girls that my parents were planning to visit for the afternoon, which made their reactions to the sight of their grandparents walking toward the farm house sweeter. Especially Faye's face a mixture of pleased but puzzled as she processed the sight of both her grandpas side by side.

As the afternoon went on we were joined by Orrin, Kelli and other members of Kates' family. Steve and Jane, who married Kates and me, were there also. In all, we counted about 75 guests at The Farm Saturday afternoon.

The food was delicious, too. We dined on barbecue sandwiches and a wider variety of salads than anything you've seen at a church potluck. There were multiple varieties of lettuce salads, vegetable salads, fruit salads, macaroni salads, and we leftovers to last us the remainder of our vacation. Plus, there were apple pies, cookies and cakes for dessert. 

By around 3:30, we said good bye to my parents and most of the guests had gone. A couple families remained sitting in the yard as a handful of us gathered inside. And the party came to a crashing halt literally when those of us inside noticed a commotion outside and realized a gust of wind had picked up and flipped the largest canopy over the fence. Without missing a beat, Orrin, Uncle Allan and I joined the group outside and climbed the fence to retrieve the canopy. We dismantled its legs and managed to pull the roof section back to our side of the fence. Once we had it on the ground, we dismantled the remainder of it, along with the other three canopies in the yard. 

The last guests left, leaving Uncle Allan and Aunt Linda. Orrin, Kelli, her father Pat and Leah. We cracked open some ice cold beers and lounged in chairs, enjoying good conversation, while Phoebe, Audrey and Faye chased each other in the yard. It was a summer afternoon on The Farm at its finest. ... Even the part when Phoebe asked me to set up the bad mitten net and Allan, Pat and I spent what seemed like the next hour untangling it.

By dark, we said goodbye to Allan and Linda, too, and the rest of us began settling in for the night. Indeed, we had a full house Saturday night with Leah, Audrey and Phoebe sleeping on the porch; Pat slept in the study, and the rest of us took our usual rooms upstairs. 

* * *
I finally ventured out of bed around 9:30 a.m. Sunday and found everyone around the dining table eating breakfast. 

After finishing breakfast and cleaning the dishes, we had our first "Frozen" screening of the week
Leah, Audrey, Orrin and Kelli had not seen it. ... Orrin and Kelli opted to leave halfway through the movie, which gave us a chance to pause and eat lunch. Then, we resumed and said our goodbyes to Leah and Audrey after the fantastic conclusion.

The house quiet, I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view from the porch and doing some writing. It was wonderful.

For our final adventure of Sunday, we headed to Reedsburg for supper and some grocery shopping. We made a pit stop to see Grandpa S's new church. Then, we headed to the McDonald's to eat and use the Wifi while the girls climbed at the Playland. Finally, we landed at the grocery story to pick up our food and supplies for the week, and the girls got to steer ...

However, the most interesting thing to happen while we navigated the store were the storms brewing outside. Because there's no internet or cell phone service at The Farm, we look forward to our Reedsburg excursions, if only to check email and social media.

We learned through Facebook that The 'Ville was under a tornado warning and the sirens were blaring. Minutes after that, we started to hear the rumbling of thunder outside the store, and then the rain pounding the roof.

As we checked out, there was no sign of the rain letting up. So Grandpa S. pulled his van right up to the store's front doors and loaded all of our groceries. Phoebe got in with Grandma and Grandpa and traveled back to The Farm with them while Kates, Faye and I followed in our car.

So there we were, driving through the wide open country fields and valleys. In the dark. Rain pelting our cars. Lightning flashing around us. ... Phoebe, of course, was scared and reportedly didn't show much confidence in Grandpa's abilities to get back to The Farm. But all of us arrived safe and sound.

* * *

Monday, Aunt Ruth and Jessi arrived with Isaac and Lily. And the house was filled with running and squealing until they left Wednesday morning.

Between Monday and Wednesday there were three showings of “Frozen,” and there might have been a fourth on this morning had Kates not interrupted and suggested we watch “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” instead.

Kates, Ruth and I tried to watch “Amelia” Monday night, but we were about halfway through it when all of us decided we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer and headed to bed. I finished it Wednesday night and enjoyed it from a historic perspective. From an entertainment point-of-view, not so much.

Tuesday night, once all the kids were sleeping, we delved into some wine and conversation in the kitchen. At one point, the phrase “nine times” came up in our conversation, which conjured thoughts of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and Dean of Students Ed Rooney. Then Ruth shared that she had never seen the film, and there was no going back. It was 11 at night, but we popped in the old VHS anyway, and I have never enjoyed watching it more.

Tonight, we headed to Reedsburg for dinner at a Chinese diner that Grandma and Grandpa S wanted to share with us. But after a failed battle to get the bench seats in their caravan so we could fit Faye’s car seat in the vehicle and ride to town together, I had lost my appetite and couldn’t eat much. …

Afterward, we walked the storefronts and ventured into a Dollar Tree, where Grandpa was drawn to a couple fancy white cowgirl hats and bought the last two on the rack for Phoebe and Faye. They delighted in wearing them the rest of the night.

On Phoebe’s idea, we ended up at the Reedsburg bowling alley. Phoebe and I bowled a couple games – with bumpers – and had a grand time. In the meantime, Kates chased Faye around the building, and Grandma and Grandpa watched from the bench seats.

For the record, Phoebe and I got quite a battle going in the second game. She ended up with a score of 101 – her first finish above 100, I believe – and I ended with a 137. I knocked down nine pins in all but a few frames, with three or four spares and one strike in the other frames. Also for the record, the bumpers helped me only once or twice.

We capped things off tonight by watching “The Croods.” … Phoebe loves it.

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