Shortly after settling into our new Alaskan home, it was time to venture back to the midwest to visit Matt's family. It had been three years since we had visited the area, and were excited to make the trip back. But first, a great photo op with some friends at the Anchorage International Airport.
No visit to Matt's hometown of Girard, Kansas, would be complete without a stop at Chicken Mary's. Ah, nothing says the midwest like fried chicken, cole slaw and German potato salad. Welcome home!
We spent the first half of the week at my in-laws lake house at Grand Lake, in Grove, Oklahoma.
Such a peaceful place to hang out after such a crazy, move-around-the-world, schedule.
And we found summer! The weather happened to be extraordinary for our early-October visit. Temps in the high-70's was indeed swimming weather for these Alaska kids. (Though, the water was already too cool for me, kids never care about that!)
One evening we drove to Claremore, Oklahoma (right outside Tulsa) to cousin Shelley's for a fabulous BBQ spread. Brisket, chicken, pork, baked beans, potato salad, you name it, it was there. We really missed good 'ol barbeque during our three years in Japan, so this was such a treat.
Not to mention their beautiful property,
The girls were absolutely in heaven with the horse rides. Thanks Shelley and Terry!
After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, looking out on so much wide-open space seemed refreshing. I could take a deep breath and exhale.
This little gal is such an animal lover, she belongs on a farm somewhere.
Animals (and toddlers) always respond very well to her, too!
Here is most of the gang. The Henderson's, from my father-in-laws side of the family. Super nice people!
The next few days at the lake house consisted of more water play,
morning walks on beautiful, still, country roads,
soaking up some sunshine,
and wave runner lessons from grandpa. Should I be concerned now, or later, over Ella's need for speed?!
Eva takes things much more cautiously. Whew!
And it wouldn't be a visit to the lake without Grandpa's famous fish fry.
Ella was eager to learn the finer points of fish frying.
We spent the remainder of the visit in Branson, Missouri, home of the 9:00 am variety show. In fact, the TV show, 60 Minutes, dubbed Branson, "the music capital of the entire universe". So, there you have it!
You know you're not in Japan anymore when you can buy a 64 oz. refillable mug at the corner Kum & Go. God Bless America! (In Japan it was very rare to find any beverage over 12 oz.-anywhere! I would take my 32 oz. iced tea, purchased from the military base, to a Japanese mall, and receive actual gasps from passersby at the size of the drink.)
And a stop at Chick-Fil-A is always a must. I was heartsick when I learned that Alaska did not have CFA. Three additional years without this goodness, sigh.
Another bonus to the Branson side trip, was meeting up with Matt's brother and sister and some cousins! We finally got to meet Lillian this trip.
This little gal is TWO! Can you even get over this hair?!?!?!
We spent the last two days at the theme park, Silver Dollar City.
Silver Dollar City has rides, shows, food, and frontier demonstrations, i.e.; candy making, blacksmith-ing, glass blowing, etc., and lots of homemade crafts.
There is even a large cave to explore, complete with an underground waterfall.
We also loved all of the fall decorations.
Most people come to Branson for the shows, and I really enjoyed this musical revue.
Also loved the wild west cowboy show!
Let's get this out in the open, I'm not a fan of rides that get you wet. Ever. But especially on a cold day. The weather had turned significantly cooler by the end of the week and was only in the high-50's on our last day. Ella was desperate to go on one such water ride, and I refused. Eva opted out as well. At the end of the day, Matt finally agreed. After observing, some people didn't get too wet, while others were soaked. It was a gamble.
A gamble that they lost. They were drenched! And cold! Is there anything worse than walking around in wet jeans? No, no there is not. But my thrill seeker loved the adrenaline rush!
And just like that, our time together had come to an end.
The week passed too quickly, and it was already time to say our goodbyes. The good thing about being back in the states (sort of back in the states!) is not having to wait another three years before we see these cuties again!
On the four hour drive back to Kansas City International Airport, Matt and I just had to make a stop at our favorite BBQ joint, Joe's. Right after we were married, we lived a few blocks from this place, and have such good memories there. Not to mention that Anthony Bourdain and countless other foodies have sung it's praises!
The best part? Joe's is actually part of a gas station. Yes, a gas station! No pretenses here!
But, the food. Ahhhh, the food speaks for itself. I got the pulled pork sandwich, with perfectly seasoned fries and barbeque mayo to use as dip. You have not lived until you have had their barbeque mayo. Add it to your bucket list today!
Matt ordered the burnt ends, which are also out of this world, the baked beans and the perfectly executed fries. Life could not get much better at this point.
The place was packed and we had a flight to catch so instead of waiting for a table, we sat down outside, right next to the gas pumps, and feasted. Kansas City, oh how I've missed you so. (I actually loved living in KC and would move back there tomorrow. Great food, and very genuine and warm Midwestern people.)
But alas, Alaska is home for now, and we were greeted by some friendly locals who are actually becoming common place. But I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing them!
It was a week filled with family, food and fun. When can we return?!