Another American Summer

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Kansas sunsets really are the prettiest.

Greetings from China!

Yes, we are here and settling in, but before I talk about that, I feel compelled to talk about our hectic, brief summer in the U.S.

We knew this summer would be unpredictable.  International moves always are.  I’ve learned by now that the visa process is usually one big question mark until it isn’t.  It makes it difficult to plan much because everything has to revolve around the visa timeline and (of course!) you can’t make appointments.

Amidst the chaos of moving from Turkey to the U.S. and then packing again for China, 5 weeks of rapid couchsurfing around Kansas, and going to Chicago for our visas, we did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit.

Indulge me as I go through the highlight reel:

img_20190801_134339Hanging out with my grandma’s adorable cats!

img_20190801_134316Eating my grandma’s peanut butter pie!

img_20190710_150803Enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer with my partner in crime while we waited for our visas to be processed

img_20190711_130659Trying aerial yoga for the first time (loved it!)

 

img_20190723_155126Childhood treats

img_20190726_115942Reminiscing

img_20190727_192935_1Drinking wine in the Flint Hills

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Drinking more wine…this time from the wine box we sealed at our wedding.  As it was our 5th wedding anniversary, we got to open this bottle and replace it with another (to be opened on our 10th.)

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Saying goodbye (for now) to the U.S. and hello (or nihao, rather) to a new adventure.

 

So there you have it.  A very brief recap of an all-too-brief summer.  More to come on China soon!

A Little Taste of the Cotswolds in Castle Combe

20180823_160248You can never go wrong with narrow streets, quaint houses, cafes, and great pubs.  Castle Combe – a veritable Shire –  did not disappoint.

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Logistically, it is not the easiest place to get to, but we managed.  If I were to visit again, I would probably rent a car.  Still, there are bus connections most days of the week – you just really have to watch out for the times because they are infrequent.

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If you are looking for excitement, you won’t find it here – but that’s okay.  It is enough just to be, to wander the cobbled side roads and wooded paths, enjoy the mossy green surroundings, and perhaps stop for a great pub meal or two and a cream tea.

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Bath

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Of all the places we visited on our trip to England, I think Bath was my favorite.  The stunning architecture and scenery took my breath away from the moment we stepped off the train.

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We started off with a lovely afternoon tea at the Jane Austen House.  I felt like a fanciful Mrs. Darcy as I not-so-elegantly stuffed scones with clotted cream into my face (yum!)

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After our spot of tea, my sister and I went to the Thermae Bath Spa to soak in the thermal waters that initially drew the Romans into the area when the city was founded.  Talk about a perfect day!

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We watched the sun fade along the water, walked by the abbey, and did a little souvenir shopping before catching the train back to our place in Bristol.

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Bristol, U.K.

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After exploring London for a few days, my husband, sister, and I decided to base ourselves out of Bristol so that we could explore more of the English countryside.  While it’s a great base to see places such as Bath or Stonehenge, Bristol in and of itself is a very cool city worth a visit.

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I am a huge fan of street art and Bristol has it in spades.  Home to the famous street artist and political activist, Banksy, the street art scene there has exploded in recent years.

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In addition to a cool street art scene, there is a big demand in Bristol for people to shop local; as such, there is no shortage of unique shops and restaurants to discover.

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Words to live by!

 

London

20180817_161836-EFFECTSAs a self-proclaimed Potterhead, London has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  How it took me this long to get there, I have no idea, but I was lucky enough to finally make it happen and even luckier to have my sister along for the ride.

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We stayed in the adorable neighborhood of Hackney – highly recommend!

This was her first big international trip and I was so excited to share the experience.  We hit the ground running after she landed with all of the main tourist sites and started the next day with a very cool (and very nerdy) Harry Potter walking tour, where we got to see various film locations and the parts of London that inspired some of the magical locations as well (shout out to the real-life Diagon Alley!).

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The street that inspired Diagon Alley!

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…and Knockturn Alley!

I had really hoped to catch a show while in London, but alas – the two shows I wanted to see most were sold out.  I still grabbed photos of the venues, if somewhat bitterly.

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We met up with a good friend and former colleague for some drinks at a super cool roof top bar, indulged in Cornish pasties, wandered through as many neighborhoods and parks as we could manage, and shopped until we dropped (I don’t think I will ever see a bookstore that tops Foyles!  They really had everything!)

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It was a really great start to an awesome adventure.

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Processing Loss

When I last left this space, I had expected that my next post would be about our trip to Germany to see the Christmas markets.  I had planned to write about sparkling Christmas lights, stalls of decorations, beautiful mugs of hot wine, and enough Christmas spirit to last a lifetime.  I did indeed go to Germany, but what happened next was not a part of my plans and this post is one that I never wanted to have to write.

Just a few short hours after arriving in Germany, I got a call from my dad.  My grandpa had passed away unexpectedly.

I left Germany the next day, made arrangements to take off work, and flew home as quickly as I could, broken-hearted.

My grandpa was one of the kindest, most generous, and hardest working people I have ever known.  Even as a child, I was always in awe of the way he would help those in need – even total strangers – without a second thought.  He was always lending people tools and going over to help friends and relatives fix their cars and houses (he was a brilliant handyman).  He was also incredibly thoughtful and fun to be around. My sister and I spent a lot of time with him as kids – especially in the summers when we would stay with our dad. He retired young, so he was always willing to watch us while my dad was at work. Some of my favorite childhood memories come from that time.

I will never forget scary movie marathons, watching TNT early in the morning, making crazy milkshakes, or driving the riding lawnmower. I will also never forget learning about collecting coins, trips to the Kansas State Fair, and all of the amazing things my grandpa built – especially the giant Jenga he made for my wedding day.

My heart breaks for everyone who knew him because of the wonderful person he was – his absence will be felt by so many. These last couple of weeks have been so strange and so hard.

I thought that going back home would give me some peace and some closure, but even there, it didn’t seem real. I kept expecting to hear him burst through the back door after some work in one of his shops or to hear him laughing in the living room after a refill of iced tea. It just doesn’t seem possible that he is gone.

Perhaps this is a testament to his ability to leave an impression on everyone he met. Perhaps his presence still shines in the love that everyone had for him.

This is going to be a tough time for my family. Peace to all those who are grieving this holiday season.

Sun Up, Sun Down

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I might be a little biased, but I honestly think that the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen have been right here in the Kansas prairie.

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Even the cloudy night sky is stunning.

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It’s been good to be home and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sad to be leaving next week.

 

USA Roadtripping: The North Shore Scenic Drive

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Minnesota is a seriously gorgeous state, bursting with huge pine forests, rolling hills, and rocky cliffs.  On our second day in Duluth, we decided to do the North Shore Scenic Drive, a beautiful drive along Highway 61 on the edge of Lake Superior.  The drive stretches from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border  and is full of old lighthouses, cute coastal towns, waterfalls, and secluded  beaches.

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Pretty butterfly at Stony Point

There are many great things about the North Shore route, among them the fact that there is something to pull over and look at at least every ten miles. Travelers can stop and look at their leisure…or just keep driving; there is no right way to go about it.

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We chose Stony Point Beach –  just a few minutes outside of Duluth – as our first stop.  It’s calm, mostly secluded, and a great place to hunt for agates -a popular pastime in the area.

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Once we’d gotten our fill at the beach, we drove another ten miles to the cozy town of Two Harbors to check out the lighthouses and walk along the pier.  There were also dozens of adorable shops and restaurants along the way, though we made time for only one:  Betty’s Pies.

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I wasn’t particularly hungry that early in the morning, but I’ve always been a huge fan of pie, so I wasn’t about to pass up this stop on the itinerary.  Betty’s offers a huge range of delicious flavors, though my personal favorite was the plain blueberry; the blackberry peach with the crumble topping was a close second.

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Can you spot me?

Next up was Gooseberry Falls State Park, a good place to do a little hiking and burn off the pie we had just eaten.  The park boasts several beautiful waterfalls and miles and miles of trails.

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After some hiking and splashing around, we moved on to the next stop, which was my personal favorite:  Split Rock Lighthouse.

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We loved this spot so much that we ended up staying a couple of hours, walking along the pebble beach and enjoying the views of the pine-covered Ellison Island in the distance.  After a nice picnic, we walked up the cliff to get a look at the beautiful little lighthouse for which the area is best known.

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Our final stop was the Black Beach at Silver Bay, though it was by no means the end of the route along Lake Superior.  I so wished my family had had their passports on them so we could have crossed into Canada.  Perhaps next time!

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The beach was not so much black as it was a dark reddish color, but it was still a decent beach.  I particularly enjoyed climbing the rocks and admiring the view down below.

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It was a wonderful way to spend the day, and while at the time I had wanted to go a little farther along the highway, I was later grateful to have returned when we did because we got back to our hotel just in time to avoid the crazy thunderstorms and flash floods.

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I don’t often miss having a car, but after this little road trip, I’m thinking I’m going to have to rent them more often on our trips so we can do more scenic drives – Minnesota was so lovely!

USA Roadtripping: Duluth, MN

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We’ve done a good bit of traveling over the past few years, but to be honest, neither my husband nor I have traveled much within the U.S.  Part of this is because the U.S. is huge and not the easiest to travel through logistically and the other part of it is because we are still pretty fresh out of school and didn’t really have the financial means to do a lot of traveling until we got our first “real” jobs.

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When my mom asked about taking a road trip while we were in town for the summer, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see a little bit more of my native land.  We decided to head north to catch a break from the blazing temperatures throughout much of the Midwest.

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We based ourselves out of Duluth, an ADORABLE little town on the edge of Lake Superior. We only got to spend a few days there, but I easily could have spent a week enjoying the lake, the FOOD, and all of the cute downtown streets.

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My little brother, husband, and I wanted to hit the ground running after the long drive. Our first order of business was to check out the Aerial Lift Bridge while enjoying some ENORMOUS ice cream cones.

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Next on our agenda was the Lakewalk, which went along the shores of Lake Superior and led up to some pretty rose gardens.  The view of the city at sunset certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Dinner consisted of a fabulous artichoke/basil/garlic pizza and some tasty local brews.  I would have loved to have had a few more days to explore the thriving food and craft brew scene there, so I guess that means I’ll have to go back.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without a little dip in the beach, although the water was way too cold for swimming.

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Duluth is such a great little gem…totally worth the 12-hour drive!  I’m not in any rush to leave Turkey, but if I ever did come back to live Stateside, Duluth just might be a contender for a new home.  At the very least, I might be able to convince my mom to move there so I can visit every summer.

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In the Land of Oz

IMG_0035.JPGWe’ve been back in Kansas for about a week now hanging out at my grandparents’ place. Lingering jet lag means lots of morning walks and snapping photos of a place now foreign and familiar all at once.

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IMG_0044.JPGIt’s been a full house with my dad, stepmom, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, and a whole slew of other relatives visiting.  It’s also been a sweltering 100 degrees almost every single day, which means it’s been the perfect time to get reacquainted with air conditioning, play lots of late night card games, and eat as much American junk food as I can handle.