Spain/Belgium Pictures

The Sevilla cathedral

At the top of the cathedral tower, at noon...listening to the bells!

Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

Crystal Palace, Madrid

Maggie in Retiro Park, Madrid, next to her favorite kind of roses

Ben, same place, his favorite roses
Retiro Park, some street performer making HUGE bubbles!

Legolas's knives!  All the lOTR swords were made in Toledo, Spain

View of the medieval city of Toledo, 30 min outside Madrid

Cathedral of Toledo

Churros and chocolate!

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Water park fun in Madrid

Chocolate milk break from the splashing :)

Mannekin Pis (not the real one, obviously)

Brussels Park

Aaaaaaawesome waffle!!!!!

Aaaaand tasty fries

Day trip to Ghent, in front of one of the 3 major cathedrals

Ghent canals (like Amsterdam!)

Yes indeed, macaroons from McDonalds in Ghent


We're Not in Burundi Anymore....

Burundi, while it has its share of unique experiences, does not have many of the entertainment factors of America.  So, one of the "fun" things we've enjoyed during our months here is simply giving our kids (and enjoying ourselves) a bunch of things that just aren't possible for us in Burundi.

1.  Tubing/water sports of any kind.  There are some very nice pools in Buja.  And there is a lake (with crocs and hippos).  But I'm pretty sure the average Burundian fishing boat does not have enough horse power to get me to catch air like this.

2.  Theme restaurants.  Bujumbura has 3 restaurants that we've ever visited.  Maybe there are a few more.  But I'm guessing that there are no restaurants in Burundi where you can dress up like a firefighter while you wait for your pizza.  (also, there are really no fire trucks, so that helps me make an educated guess)

3.  Zoos.  In fact, while we've been on some awesome safaris, they have not been in Burundi.  And the Rwanda gorillas cost way more than a $2 donation at the Como Zoo to see.  And...there's no carousels in Burundi.

4.  Surprisingly, bowling.  While visiting friends in MN, they introduced us to a program where kids bowl free in the summer.  The bowling place had ramps and bumpers, so all the kids could play and actually get a decent score!

(although, Toby got bored after 5 frames and sought other entertainment...)



In continuing on with our series on "fun things in America," I would definitely have to include our cousins.  This is actually a huge highlight of our time in the States.  As many of you know, Toby was born during our year in France, so most people hadn't met him before our return in April (just after his 2nd birthday).  AND Eric's three sisters all had kids around the same time as Toby...and were all expecting another round just after our return.  Wowza!  So as of a few weeks ago, the kids are now part of an 11 grandkid family, and Maggie is the oldest.  It has been so fun to spend time with all these little ones and get to know them.  Each cousin has an "age mate" (also matched for gender) so they are hopefully making life long friendships.  Holidays just got a little bit crazier...but also a lot more fun. :)

Maggie and Sierra
Ben and Liam

Toby and Wyatt
Toby and Lily

The "2013-ers" 

Mimi and Bapa, Great-Grammy and Great-Papa


Summer Game

Well, the summer's finishing up (at least it seems so judging by the 60 degree cloudy weather we've been having) and it seems like our time in the US should be finishing up, too.  We said goodbye to our teammates, the Cropseys, yesterday.  By tomorrow our whole team is reuniting at Kibuye and we are....still here.  It's been a great time in the States so far with many more great times to come, just a funny sort of feeling this week.

Maggie and Ben displaying paper masks they created at the library
So, with all that, I thought I'd start a little blog series with fun things we've been enjoying and hopefully will continue to enjoy for the next few months.  I think, if you put aside the obvious highlights of being with family and friends, our very favorite part about the US is the LIBRARY!  Last time we lived here, we had an Ypsilanti address and no kids.  This time, we are in Ann Arbor which has seriously got to have one of the best library systems in the country.  It. Is. Awesome.  There are 5 branches around town, all featuring a great kids' section, and the downtown library even has stuff like artwork and power tools and paper craft supplies to check out.  Sweet!  We go at least 1-2 times a week and frequently have over 50 items checked out at any point in time.

One of the most fun features of the library has been the Summer Game.  Most libraries I know have a summer reading program, but the AADL's summer program is like a reading program on steroids.  Not only can you read your number of books and get a free book (which the kids have all done), but there is also a whole separate component here in AA.  The library has set up a game which takes you to all 5 branches and throughout the town, searching for codes and attending events.  You can enter your codes for points that can be spent in the game shop for library merchandise (mugs, t-shirts, hot pads, chocolate, LEGO mini figures, etc).
The kids "resting" while on a West Side adventure

The kids and I have had a blast with this.  About once a week or so we are out around town going to places like the botanical gardens, Cobblestone Farm, the West Side, etc, and finding codes while discovering cool parts of the town, too!  You can also earn points by searching the library catalog online, but the kids haven't gotten in to that as much. :)

And then, the "theme" of the Summer Game is Legos, basically, which is adding another fun thing the kids love.  Many of the codes in the downtown area are attached to little Lego scenes, which are placed in shop windows.  And last month there was a big Lego contest, which kids (and adults) from all over AA entered.  There were some AMAZING creations.  Maggie and Ben both entered, and while neither won a prize, it was fun to be a part of it (and of course get more "code points" for the Summer Game).

Ben's creation
Maggie's creation
The game wraps up this weekend and we hope to attend the end of the summer party.  I'm sure we will keep going to the library all fall, and we'll keep a few things around to remember our summer of 2015 with the AADL.

The kids (with cousin Liam) displaying prizes of chocolate and LEGOS

Mommy's summer prize.  Why not? :) (those are coffee beans, by the way)


Newbery Update

Since around 2005, we decided that, between the two of us, we wanted to read all the books that have won the Newbery Medal, which is given to one book every year that is deemed to be the greatest contribution to American children's literature.  We've enjoyed them and steadily made progress, though it's become harder in recent years, as the remaining books have become harder and harder to find.

But now we have read 92 or 94 of them.  The last two are "Daniel Boone", a 1940 win which is hard to find, probably because it's not great, and "The High King", which is easy to find, but hard to read in isolation, because it is part of a series.  Then we'll be done, and our ranking list will be complete (see below).

Here's a few pearls from our recent exploits:

New books.  Since the 2009-2011 run of 3 fantastic books, the new winners have been a bit underwhelming (especially 2012's "Dead End in Norvelt").  However, this year's winner, "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander, really was great.  Surprisingly so, since it is written in freeform hip-hop rap, which isn't really our thing.  But it works great for the basketball story it tells.

New worst Newbery of all time.  The first Newbery ever was awarded to Hendrik Willem van Loon in 1922 for a book called "The History of Mankind".  It is a long history of the world (mostly western civ).  It reads mostly like a textbook.  I'm way more prone to enjoy something like this than mostly people, and definitely more than 99.99% of young adolescent readers, but it got quite tiresome.  In addition to its content, the author pontificates on his personal ideas way too much.  It's a good lesson for history writers since, from the vantage point of almost 100 years later, his personal ideas seem ridiculous.  May we all hold our current ideas more loosely than he held his.

Surprisingly good non-novels.  In general, we're a fan of the novels, but the poetic Newberys really have been enjoyable.  One recent read, "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices" by Paul Fleishman (1989) was particularly fun.  Each poem, with alternating or concurrent sections for 2 people, are written from the point of view of a certain type of bug.  It's fun, different, and surprisingly good.  Great illustrations, to boot.

Most awkwardly named Newbery.  We have long noted the curiously named "Gay Neck: Story of a Pigeon" (1928).  Before moving to Burundi, I found a free used copy in Baltimore, packed it on the container, and read it about a year ago.  It's pretty enjoyable, in the typical way of Newberys prior to about 1950, which is to pick a far-off culture of the world (in this case, India), provide an admirable young protagonist and have him (or less frequently, her) go through minor conflict (in this case, surrounding his beloved pigeon).  Not bad, but I'm glad children's stories have developed as they have.

Here's our almost-complete rank list.  We realize it's pretty arbitrary, but it sure is fun.

From Most Favorite to Least Favorite:
  1. "The Giver" by Lois Lowry - 1994*
  2. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle - 1963
  3. "Holes" by Louis Sachar - 1999*
  4. "Maniac Magee" by Jerry Spinelli - 1991
  5. "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E.L. Konigsburg - 1968*
  6. "Jacob Have I Loved" by Katherine Patterson - 1981
  7. "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park - 2002*
  8. "The Wheel on the School" by Meindert DeJong - 1955
  9. "The Bronze Bow" by Elizabeth George Speare - 1962*
  10. "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman - 2009
  11. "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert C. O'Brien - 1972
  12. "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead - 2010
  13. "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool - 2011
  14. "Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech - 1995
  15. "Secret of the Andes" by Ann Nolan Clark - 1953
  16. "Crispin: Cross of Lead" by Avi - 2003*
  17. "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin - 1979*
  18. "The View From Saturday" by E.L. Konigsburg - 1997
  19. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor - 1977
  20. "Kira-Kira" by Cynthia Kadohata - 2005 (E)
  21. "The Whipping Boy" by Sid Fleischman - 1987
  22. "The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle" by Hugh Lofting - 1923*
  23. "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry - 1990*
  24. "Crossover" by Kwame Alexander - 2015
  25. "Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan - 1986
  26. "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare - 1959
  27. "A Year Down Yonder" by Richard Peck - 2001
  28. "Caddie Woodlawn" by Carol Ryrie Brink - 1936 (R)
  29. "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham - 1956*
  30. "Up a Road Slowly" by Irene Hunt - 1967 (R)
  31. "I, Juan de Pareja" by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino - 1966 (E)
  32. "The Hero and the Crown" by Robin McKinley - 1985 (R)
  33. "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo - 2004*
  34. "Missing May" by Cynthia Rylant - 1993*
  35. "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voice From a Medieval Village" by Laura Amy Schlitz - 2008
  36. "Shiloh" by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor - 1992 (R)
  37. "Rifles for Watie" by Harold Keith - 1958
  38. "Flora and Ulysses" by Kate DiCamillo - 2014
  39. "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate - 2013
  40. "Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze" by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis - 1933*
  41. "Call It Courage" by Armstrong Sperry - 1941*
  42. "Dicey's Song" by Cynthia Voight - 1983 (R)
  43. "Bridge to Terebithia" by Katherine Paterson - 1978*
  44. "Dobry" by Monica Shannon - 1935 (E)
  45. "The Midwife's Apprentice" by Karen Cushman - 1996 (R)
  46. "The Grey King" by Susan Cooper - 1976 (E)
  47. "Adam of the Road" by Elizabeth Gray Vining - 1943
  48. "Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon" by Dhan Gopal Mukerji - 1928 (E)
  49. "Waterless Mountain" by Laura Adams Armer - 1932 (E)
  50. "Shadow of a Bull" by Maia Wojciechowska - 1965
  51. "Bud, Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis - 2000 (R)
  52. "The Door in the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli - 1950
  53. "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by Beverly Cleary - 1984*
  54. "Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes - 1944 (E)
  55. "The Twenty-One Balloons" by William Pene du Bois - 1948*
  56. "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices" by Paul Fleischman - 1989 (E)
  57. "Onion John" by Joseph Krumgold - 1960 (R)
  58. "The Trumpeter of Krakow" by Eric P. Kelly - 1929*
  59. "It's Like This, Cat" by Emily Cheney Neville - 1964 (E)
  60. "Ginger Pye" by Eleanor Estes - 1952*
  61. "A Visit to William Blakes's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers" by Nancy Willard - 1982 (E)
  62. "Shen of the Sea" by Arthur Bowie Chrisman - 1926 (E)
  63. "The White Stag" by Kate Seredy - 1938
  64. "Tales From Silver Lands" by Charles Finger - 1925 (E)
  65. "...And Now Miguel" by Joseph Krumgold - 1954 (E)
  66. "Thimble Summer" by Elizabeth Enright - 1939
  67. "Rabbit Hill" by Robert Lawson - 1945 (E)
  68. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George -1973 (R)
  69. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell - 1961*
  70. "Hitty, Her First Hundred Years" by Rachel Field - 1930 (R)
  71. "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse - 1998 (E)
  72. "The Cat Who Went To Heaven" by Elizabeth Coatsworth - 1931 (E)
  73. "Dead End in Norvelt" by Jack Gantos - 2012 (E)
  74. "Criss Cross" by Lynn Rae Perkins - 2006 (R)
  75. "The Higher Power of Lucky" by Susan Patron - 2007 (E)
  76. "King of the Wind" by Marguerite Henry - 1949 (R)
  77. "Miss Hickory" by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey - 1947 (E)
  78. "A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal" by Joan Blos - 1979 (R)
  79. "Lincoln: A Photobiography" by Russell Freedman - 1988 (R)
  80. "Roller Skates" by Ruth Sawyer - 1937 (R)
  81. "Miracles on Maple Hill" by Virginia Sorenson - 1957 (R)
  82. "Summer of the Swans" by Betsy Byars - 1971 (R)
  83. "M.C. Higgins, the Great" by Virginia Hamilton - 1975 (R)
  84. "Strawberry Girl" by Lois Lenski - 1946 (R)
  85. "Amos Fortune, Free Man" by Elizabeth Yates - 1951
  86. "Sounder" by William H. Armstrong - 1970 (R)
  87. "Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women" by Cornelia Meigs - 1934 (R)
  88. "The Slave Dancer" by Paula Fox - 1974*
  89. "The Dark Frigate" by Charles Hawes - 1924 (R)
  90. "The Matchlock Gun" by Walter D Edmonds - 1942
  91. "Smoky the Cowhorse" by Will James - 1927 (E)
  92. "The Story of Mankind" by Hendrik Willem van Loon - 1922 (E)


"Pine Mouth"

Well, a lot has happened in the last month, and obviously we're not posting most of it here, specifically because it is mostly the highest form of simply enjoying being with our family and friends here in Tennessee, and we're too busy enjoying it to post about it.

And we're really OK with that.

But blogging continues to be a way to denote some of the odd little details of life that might otherwise be forgotten, and so we share the random:


Monday, we traveled down to Chattanooga to see Jena and Brian, and our two nieces.  On arriving there, we got to spend an awesome afternoon with our friends the Chaffins, who know how to put together a mean lunch and otherwise make you feel totally at home.  Then we descended the mountain on which they live and headed over to Jena's.

Wednesday morning:  Why does my coffee taste so bad?  Why isn't this going away with brushing my teeth?  Why does everything taste terrible today?

Well, it turns out that I have "Pine Mouth", a recently described (by the FDA) syndrome where you eat pine nuts, and an as-yet-unidentified something makes everything have a bitter and metallic taste. Thankfully, it goes away spontaneously after 4 days to 4 weeks with no longterm effects.

Actually, our friend Chris, while serving us the absolutely awesome pine-nut-containing orzo on Monday, mentioned to Rachel that she had had this problem.  I missed that conversation, but was thankful that it existed, so that Rachel could correctly diagnose me 2 days later.

No big deal, but it is messing with my US weight gain plan.  Each time someone mentions a yummy meal of the future, my first thought is "man, I hope I'm tasting things normally by that time."