Sunday, January 15, 2017

And we're back . . .

First Day of School

We arrived home safe and sound.  Life has been busy while we unpacked suitcases, unpacked boxes, went grocery shopping, and picked up where we left off.  We've celebrated Christmas a few times since returning.  Hannah, Jonathan and Charlotte are back in school, Spencer and Ben have a pretty good eat, play, eat, rest, eat, play, sleep routine going on.  Heather has a new calling as Cubmaster, Hyrum finally made it to the office Tuesday afternoon after dealing with car trouble and dentist appointments and this weekend brought a much anticipated visit from Grandma and Grandpa.  

Hyrum and I spent 3 1/2 hours sorting books we've had boxed up for years.
We're getting rid of two boxes full of books.
Christmas #2--Presents for each other we didn't
want to ship to Germany and then back again.  

Afternoon reading time.

We've also had a lot of time to think about and process our experiences.  I feel sure that it was a good thing, maybe even the right thing, for our family to do these past few months.  We have learned so much about the world we live in, about people and most importantly about ourselves and what matters most.  We've learned practical lessons about our family and travel.  We also have a better idea of what it means to move a large American family to Europe.  We've learned a bit about how small our perspective is and just how much we don't/can't understand about the world at large because we haven't experienced it.  This trip was truly humbling in so many ways.  I hope to elaborate on that later.  

Cub Scout buddies.

When we don't read we play games.

We're grateful for our trip and we're so glad to be home.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The End

141 days ago, we boarded an airplane with a mountain of luggage, five children, and a bunch of anxiety about what was to come as we set our sights to Europe for several months of family adventure.  It was a step way outside our comfort zone, and while we had a general plan, there were many unknowns.  We wondered how we'd do it all, and several times seriously considered packing it in and going home.

Tomorrow, we will again board an airplane, this time headed back to the States after having lived a lot, cried a little, and really just experienced the world around us.  Our 142 days of adventure will come to an end with little fanfare, and hopefully peaceful children during our long flight back across the pond.  When we land, summer will have given way to fall, which will have faded to winter.  Our bright and worn traveling clothes will be buried under the hats, scarves and gloves which mark the season in Pittsburgh.

In a weeks' time, we'll be busy with school, work, Church and everything in between.  We'll be able to get babysitters and send the children outside to play.  I won't have to wear the same tie to Church every week, everyone will get a new set of toothbrushes, and we won't have to visit several markets to do our weekly shopping.  It will be an adjustment.

I expect friends to ask us how our trip was, and I've thought a lot about how to respond.  How does one sum up five months of experiencing the world in a sentence or two?  How do we share the joys and the sorrows, the fun and the hardships, the concerns and the triumphs of our travels in a casual conversation?  I struggle to capture the breadth of my feelings in any medium, because it feels as if doing so always leaves something unsaid.

The reasons for that are as varied as the emotions that flow as a I think about Connemara, London, Paris, Slovenia, Antrim, Munich, Wicklow, Zugspitze, N├╝rnberg and all the other places we've been and things we've done.  The places have been awesome indeed, but they aren't the sum of our adventure.  We haven't just been to those places, we've experienced them, and in doing so, they have changed who we are as individuals and as a family.  They are now an inseparable part of us, never to be taken.  I look forward to a cold winter night many decades hence remembering with Heather—Spencer's broken armCharlotte's cut, and everything in between.  We will always have these experiences: they have changed who we are, and will continue to do so long after we return home.

If I've learned something over the last few months, it's that we can do hard things, individually and as a family.  People are kind and generous, and we should return that kindness in turn.  Things will work out, even if not in the ways we expect.  We may not be able to do everything in the world, but we shouldn't be afraid of doing something.  And as a family, we should not shy from the unfamiliar, the difficult or the uncomfortable.

Maybe the adventure isn't over after all.

Croatia and our drive back to Munich

Croatia was one of the countries we had talked about visiting while we were in Europe and Tuesday we finally did it.  Sunday and Monday, we had sick kids we were hoping would recover and improve and thankfully they did so we spent a couple of hours driving to Opatija, Croatia, a few meandering down the Promenade, an hour at the playground and then a couple more driving back.  It was fun to check that off our list, the drive was gorgeous though I missed some of it.  The gorgeous views were obstructed by road barriers so I didn't get those pictures but I love the mountains.  I also loved looking at the Adriatic Sea. The view of mountains and sea all together, it doesn't get much better.

Maiden with Seagull, silhouette.

Maiden with Seagull--I couldn't decide which one i liked best.

Opatija is a resort town with magnificent hotels along the Promenade.

This morning we said goodbye to our hostess and new friend.  She was so great and patient with us.  She was a good friend to Charlotte and Spencer.  We are so thankful that she was willing to open her home to us for the past week.

We have a Slovenian grandma, now!

We were glad to make it safely back to Munich.  We spent nearly 6 hours driving from Ljubljana to Munich with a stop in Bled.  We went to the castle in Bled and admired the views there.  We continued on our way and eventually hit snow.  We spent about 3 hours driving through snow (when I say we, I mean Hyrum.  He does the driving, I do the sleeping).  It was pretty but we were glad to be done with it.

View of the Bled lake looking from the castle.

A view from the castle.

View of the first courtyard at Bled Castle from the rampart.

Part of our Alpine drive.

On Monday we took a drive.  This is sunset at Stari Grad outside Ljubljana.

More sunset and castle ruins from Monday.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ljubljana, Slovenia

The past few days we've spent our time in Ljubljana.  I'll say upfront, it's cold.  I am not an outdoor winter person.  I like cooler weather but if it's cold, give me a blanket, a fireplace, hot chocolate and a book and I'll see you when it warms up again.  It's usually about 23F when we get out in the morning, warming into the mid-30s.  We brought gloves, hats, scarves, coats and boots but after hours outside, it's a bit cold.  This has been one of our greatest struggles.  Traveling in the winter is a lot more complex than warm weather travel, at least with the kids.  It's a bit harder to pop into a store and "browse" to get warm with 5 kids in tow.  Thankfully the sun has been shining and it really helps warm us up.

Friday, our first stop was the Tourist information center to find good things to do indoors with the kids.  We walked through Christmas Market stalls and normal market stalls.  We popped into a church and admired the "Dragon Bridge", and found ourselves at the House of Experiments.  It has a lot of hands on scientific experiments for kids and adults to learn from and enjoy.  One of the best things was they had boards posted on the walls next to each experiment with information about what you should do and then went on to explain it.  Generally these were in Slovenian so, after getting our tickets and hanging our coats we got two booklets with English translations to help us through.  It was really well done.  We spent several hours there and had a great time.

Our next stop was up the funicular to the Ljubljana Castle.  As far as castles go, this was kind of the least castle like place we've been to.  It was probably more of a fortress when used as a castle but now it is a wedding location, recently it was a penitentiary,  From inside, it was hard to feel like we were in a castle for a lot of the building.  They have a puppetry museum that was a lot of fun.  They had a lot of hands on displays.  At the front door, there were giant heads in giant glass bottles.  They were a bit creepy but the kids jumped right in and started moving the mouths with the controls at the sides.   Weird, but engaging.  The first floor was a bit about the history of puppetry in Slovenia and then the second level was all hand on puppetry.  We used marionettes and hand puppets.  We also tried our hand at shadow puppetry.  It was a lot of fun.

We saw some other rooms in the castle and climbed a couple of towers, one to the ramparts and then another much higher.  We had great view of the city and the mountains in the distance.

After the castle we walked down the hill and wandered the town for a bit.  Hyrum wanted to kill time until the Organ Grinders came out.  We didn't miss them.  We watched for a few minutes before heading back to the car.  We did some grocery shopping and then back to the apartment for dinner and a good rest.

Saturday we slept in a bit which was really nice.  (Unfortunately, it was probably a sign of the fever Ben is suffering from as I write this Sunday morning.)  We got ready for our day and headed into the city.  Our first stop was the Museum of Illusions.  It was really great.  I wish we could have stayed longer but once you're done there isn't much else to stay for.  It was a great place to go.  Everyone loved it.


Hyrum and I on opposite side of mirrored slats.

What?  An Ames Room.

What's for dinner?!

How do they do that?

We enjoyed lunch in the sun at the park next to the Museum and then we decided to head to the Natural History Museum.  Well, it was closed, so we walked back into the city center.  We detoured into a really fancy department store for some warmth and after walking around for a minute decided we couldn't even decently fake that.  We went to the Tourist information office to see what else we could do indoors to get warm since we wanted to participate in the Grandpa Frost celebration that afternoon.  They pointed us to the City Museum.  We walked along and finally found it, only to discover that it too was closed.  We weren't impressed with the information we'd been given for the day.

I just really liked the festive and practical lights in the parking garage
that told you where there was an empty spot based on whether they were green or red.

In efforts to quell the murmurs of mutiny, we brought some hot chocolate.  It was delicious. It was thick, creamy, and smooth, oh and hot.  I wish we had taken a picture of the mustaches the kids had.  After a dramatic bathroom break--cold potable toilets--we walked back to the city center to see what else there was to see.  We ducked unto a store like Rite Aid and spent 15 minutes wandering around the store.  We went back up to the park where we'd eaten lunch and the crowds were gathering.  After about 15 minutes, the program started.  Of course, it was all in Slovenian, but we caught bits and pieces.  We sang and danced as best we could with the families gathered.

Grandpa Frost arrived.

After about 45 minutes there, I couldn't feel my feet anymore and kids were complaining of the cold so I took the little boys back to the car to wait for the rest of the family.  Charlotte really wanted to see Grandpa Frost.  It didn't take them long and in the meantime, we bought a few extra groceries at a store near the parking garage.

There were Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

We got back to the apartment, took bathes and made dinner.  Everyone warmed up and no one lost any toes so we're grateful for that.  At dinner time, Ben climbed into my lap and just wanted to cuddle.  He seemed so sleepy.  We hurried and put him to bed, and then got the other kids down.  We spent the rest of the evening talking, and writing and listening to the booms of fireworks.  The fireworks started at 7 and I have no idea when they ended.  We didn't make it until midnight.

The Castle.

 We had a good couple of days in Ljubljana and who knows, we may have more.  It's been fun to have the Christmas season extended a bit.  There were still Christmas Markets and Christmas Music playing everywhere.  We've also seen a few nativities over the past couple of days.  It really such a fun time of year.  I'm glad we've been in Europe and in cities.  There has been such a different feeling and celebration.

2016 Review

This year has been a big one to say the least.

The year started with a violin concert!
We started January doing lots of project planning: bedroom redecorating, deck building, backyard landscaping, camping, and Europe.  Then, it all seemed so easy/doable.  Looking back, we're a bit mad!

Charlotte and Spencer's space.

Boy's room

Hyrum taught at CMU for the Winter semester.  He demolished the old deck in March.  The landscapers started tearing up the back yard in April.  I painted and decorated the other two kid's rooms.  Hyrum took a 10 day trip to Israel for work with a bit of sightseeing.  In May, Hyrum and I, spent 10 days in Hawaii hiking, swimming, and just enjoying being together.  June brought the end of school, more deck work, more backyard digging and a camping trip.  We took a week and went to the Adirondacks just outside of Lake Placid.  We went hiking, did some swimming, checked out the Olympic sight and out drove a rain storm.

Backyard in April.

Maui, Hiking Haleakala. 11 miles of amazing!

Maui, picture from Dragon's Teeth.

Backyard in May.

July kept us closer to home as the deck deadline loomed ever closer.  The end of the month, we drove to Utah for weddings for our sisters, one on Friday and then other on Saturday.  We were there and back again with just a week to go before taking off to Europe.  Hyrum spent 3-5 hours every night working furiously trying to finish the deck.  Before we left, it was usable but we still have to finish the railings on the stairs.  The backyard was working on growing grass since the landscapers finished just days before we left.

We went to a lot of t-ball and soccer games.

Jonathan has his 8th birthday party!

We came home from Utah on August 9th and hurried to clean our house, pack our suitcases and purchase a few last minute supplies.   We flew out of Pittsburgh on August 16 and landed in London on August 17th.  Since then we've experienced London, Shropshire and Wales, Ireland, Munich, bits of Austria, Nuremberg, Paris, Italy, and Slovenia.  We've seen a grand total of 8 countries as a family.  Heather and Jonathan have also been working hard on Cub Scout along the way.

I learned how to make nougat and divinity, and turn them into potatoes for April Fool's Day!

1 of 18 quiet book pages.

Words like, danke (thank you), wasser (water), entschuldigung (sorry, excuse me) have crept into our daily language.  We've experienced city life in a way we never thought possible.  The kids have learned to "mind the gap".  We've had a broken arm and a glued forehead in foreign countries.

Waiting to board our plane in Pittsburgh.

Zoo in Munich.

Jonathan was baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ben has changed from a toddler to a little kid.  Charlotte is ready for school, Hannah is in her last year of elementary school, and Spencer tested out of his speech therapy program.  Heather is balancing the ever more-complicated Wright Household.  She takes time out for sewing and creative endeavors which often mean dresses for girls, or a quilt for someones bed.  Hyrum is working hard to support our adventures while occasionally enjoying a bike ride and engaging in home improvement projects.  He is also the trip planning extraordinaire.

Family pic at Giant's Causeway.

Chillin' on our big red couch in Munich.

In addition to all of this, Hyrum has been actively involved in the Scouting program, and serving on the high council at church.  Heather served as Primary president for a few months in 2016 and then as a Relief Society teacher.  While in Munich, she played the piano in Relief Society.

The end of our rainy hike at Gendalough.

In the midst of these big adventures there were also little things, like potty training, bread making, piano practicing, working, and all the little things that go into making a bunch of 7 people a family.  We've lived a lot this past year and hope we can maintain the momentum.  We've learned a lot about ourselves, our family and the world.  Our family motto has long been "Adventure is Out There".  I hope we can continue the trend in one way or another, seeking adventures near and far to help us learn and grow together.

Cookie decorating at Google!

Postojnska Cave

New Year's lights in Ljubljana.

Taking the Tube.

Thanksgiving with Ian and Charity.

We wish you all a Happy New Year!