Days 16, 17, and 18

On July 3, we celebrated the 4th of July. I know that doesn't really make sense. However, it is an old, old tradition for the folks in Marengo, Iowa. Because they are a small town, their celebrations tend to get overshadowed by the bigger towns on the 4th, so they decided a long time ago to have their parties and fireworks a day early. It works great.
There is a quaint little carnival on the town square and a little parade with a total small-town feeling (lots of fire trucks and tractors). I used to look down my nose at all this small town quaintness, but this is at least my 4th round of this tradition, and I'm really starting to like Marengo and their small town traditions. I think that the longer I live outside of the USA, the more I appreciate the small towns of America. They are such a nice change of pace from the dense population and fast lifestyles of big cities. I almost feel like I'm on a retreat when I'm in Marengo.
We celebrated the 4th of July by driving to Kansas City. That evening Theresa took Emma on a special shopping outing where she was able to watch the custom creation of her own teddy bear. Sarah and I took advantage of this night of freedom by going on a double date with Elizabeth and her new boyfriend. (Unfortunatley for us, it looks like he is going to woo her to St. Louis and away from Korea, at least for now.) We went to The Cheescake Factory, the home of the best cheesecake in the world. We enjoyed a beautiful dinner on the patio outside, under blue skies and perfect temperatures.
We are now in Olathe, Kansas. We are staying with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Dean, but Emma identifies houses according to the dogs who live there, so this is "Ivan's house" for her. Emma has been enjoying lots of time with Ivan - a beautiful white dog who is a gentle giant. Ivan is probably twice Emma's weight! I have to confess; I'm enjoying having a dog around, too. I miss that.
Today, Saturday, we visited my old college roommates (Jeremiah and David) and their ladies (Alyssa and Alicia). We had steaks and baked potatoes for lunch. (YUM! More American beef!!)
Tonight, Sarah and her sisters are having a girls night with her old roommate and childhood friend (Melissa) and Elizabeth and Theresa. Several of my buddies are coming over here to my Aunt's house about 9pm to play Risk (a strategy/war game). I'm hoping Emma will be sawing logs by 8:30, so that she will finally get a full night of sleep. She's been going to sleep and waking up with "the big people," so she's been running a few hours short every night. Hopefully, tonight will help her catch up.