Friday, January 6, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Where is "home," exactly?  Is it where you grew up?  Is it where your parents live?  Is it where your house is?  Or is it wherever you happen to be living now?

Everywhere we've been over the past 3 weeks has been a place at least one of us thinks of as "home," but now, after going "home" so many times, we are back in London -- the newest location to earn that label.  It was a great trip, during which we visited friends and family, our childhood homes, and a few favorite haunts.  [And for those of you we did not get a chance to see on this go-round, we hope we'll be able to catch up with you on our next visit.  Time is in short supply over the holidays...]

We started our family reunion tour in Washington, DC, where we stayed at Josh's parents' house -- the house they moved to when he was just 3 weeks old.   While we were there, we toured some Christmas light displays...
Could use some more lights...
Met our friend Bela's adorable 6-month-old baby boy...
Baby Dillan and Mommy Bela
...And celebrated the birthdays of three dear friends -- who thankfully are also friends with one another, so we combined it into one epic birthday dinner.
2nd Annual Triple Birthday Dinner
With the birthday girls: Elizabeth, Diana, and Ann (and Naina)
We stopped by our house in Arlington -- the last place we both called "home" -- to check in with our tenant, and discovered that a new Trader Joe's had opened up FOUR BLOCKS AWAY!  We knew it was coming, but seeing it full of shoppers and Hawaiian-shirt-clad employees made me a little sad that the nearest Trader Joe's is thousands of miles away from where I live now.  Well, it will give me one more thing to look forward to when we move back.  We also had dinner with some friends who are expecting a baby in April.  I was taken completely by surprise when they asked me to be their child's godmother!  (Especially considering how religious I am. Not.)  What an honor!  Best. Christmas. Surprise. Ever.

All too soon, it was time to head up to Vermont to spend Christmas with Josh's family at his parents' vacation house.  To maximize our time there, we chose to fly up, which involved flying from DC to Boston and then catching a connecting flight on Cape Air from Boston to Lebanon, NH.   The last time we flew to Lebanon, we were in a tiny 4-seater plane and Josh was the pilot (which made me the co-pilot!), so the 10-seater Cape Air plane was much larger in comparison, but still awfully tiny for a commercial flight!  When we checked in, they weighed our carry-on bags, which we were not allowed to carry on the flight -- they were stowed in compartments in the wings -- and then asked each of us how much we weighed.  It was a full flight, with 8 passengers.
No beverage service on this flight
The flight was a little bumpy, but went smoothly until we landed and discovered our luggage did not make it onto the plane.  The guy at the Cape Air desk -- who also directed the plane in and unloaded the bags -- said they'd try to bring them on the next flight and have them delivered to us.  We were a bit dubious that they'd have room if the next flight was full as well, but miraculously, we got a call later that evening from a taxi driver asking for directions.  Hooray!  Next time -- if there is a next time -- I think we'll take the Dartmouth bus from Boston to Hanover instead of flying into Lebanon to reduce the risk of lost luggage and weather-related delays/cancellations.

Josh's parents and brother, Ben, were already there with Ben's wife, Laada, and our nieces Laska (almost 15) and Larissa (7), so it was nice to catch up with all of them.  There was no snow on the ground when we arrived on Dec 22, but we woke up the next morning to a winter wonderland.  Of course we all had to bundle up and go outside to play in the snow!
Mikki (the dog), Josh, and Laska playing in the snow.
Charlie Brown Christmas trees!
Laska & Larissa's snowman is happy to see you
View from the house overlooking Lake Morey
Josh and Larissa-sized snow angels on the deck
Josh sledding down the road
Laska and Larissa with their "ice buffalo"
Sunset over Lake Morey
It was nice to have a white Christmas in Vermont, although it made it a little treacherous getting up and down the narrow gravel road to the house.  Fortunately we had two cars with 4WD, so we weren't trapped up there.  We had Christmas Eve dinner at aunt Portia's house across the river in Orford, NH, with Josh's aunt Priscilla and uncle Ken, who were also in town for the holidays. On Christmas morning, the girls opened their stockings and waited patiently for everyone to get up, eat breakfast, and get the house ready for Christmas dinner before opening presents.  They were much more patient than Josh and I were!  I guess we should have brought our stockings, too.

Santa came!!!
We also posed for a few family photos by the fireplace -- taking advantage of all the additional photographers.
Ben, Laska, Laada, Larissa
Naina & Josh
Josh's nieces gave him Star Wars fruit snacks
He did NOT want to share!
Laska poses with her loot
Larissa's new scarf & gloves (from uncle Josh & aunt Naina)
The aunties and uncles came up to the house around 4 for an early dinner and brought a few more gifts to open.
Josh and Ken compare iPads
Bill models his new glasses from aunt Portia
Laska got this book from her parents: Hot Guys & Baby Animals. Awesome!
We had a bit of drama after dinner.  We had finished opening gifts and were JUST about to start a game of Scattergories (a family gift from aunt Portia) when the phone rang.  The downhill neighbor's car had gotten stuck on the road on her way home and until AAA could come and tow it to her house, no one would be able to drive up or down the road to our house.  The men all bundled up and headed down the hill to see if they could get her car out of the ditch, but to no avail.  There had been a few snow showers during the day, and the temperature was well below freezing, so the road was pretty slippery.  We abandoned the game and waited to hear back from her once the road was clear, but when the phone finally rang, she was nearly in hysterics.  The first tow truck that came couldn't make it up the hill to her car, so they sent a second one with a snow plow.  The driver managed to get up the road, but after chaining her car to the back, he lost control of the truck, sliding backwards and crashing into the front of her car -- and pushing it right back into the ditch.  He told her she'd have to wait until the road was plowed and sanded before they could help her, and then left.  Nice.

This is a private road in very small town in Vermont.  It's maintained by a guy named Todd.  There was some doubt as to whether Todd -- or anyone else -- would be willing, or able, to treat the road at 9 pm on Christmas, so the aunties and uncles bundled up and set off down the hill on foot.  Fortunately, aunt Portia had left her car at the bottom of the hill and had Bill drive them up, so they didn't have to walk all the way back to New Hampshire!

We were invited to lunch at aunt Portia's the next day, so we were relieved to get a call from the neighbor at 11:30 am to let us know that the road had been sanded and her car was safely back in her garage.  We made our way carefully down the hill and across the river.  While we were waiting for Josh's uncle Josh to arrive (yes, it does get confusing!), Portia's husband, John, showed us how he had creatively re-used the case of his old Apple G5 computer after the motherboard melted down:
The Apple G(erbil)5
[Please note that no actual gerbils were harmed (or used) in the making of this adorable gerbil habitat.  Those are just stuffed animals.]

Uncle Josh arrived with cousins Nick and Eliza, and since we had a critical mass of the Fitzhugh family all in one place (including Josh's dad and all three of his siblings), Nick offered to take a family photo with his fancy camera.  While he was getting the tripod set up, I took a quick one myself.  Larissa was having one of her moments, but at least you can see everyone else.
A large chunk of the Fitzhugh clan
Ben and family headed to the airport after lunch so they could visit Laada's family.  A couple days later, we did the same (to visit MY family, that is).  The weather was a bit iffy -- what you'd call a "wintry mix" of rain, snow, and sleet -- so we were nervous that our flight would be canceled or delayed.  We would have left right on time, had we not had to wait for another plane to land, which took an eternity due to the low visibility.  We were sure our bags would not make it onto our connecting flight once again.
Our Cape Air flight back to Boston
By the time we arrived in Boston, 20 minutes late, we were doubtful that we would even make it to our connecting flight to San Francisco.  Fortunately, it was in the same terminal, so we didn't have to leave the airport, take a shuttle bus, and go back through security like we did on the way up.  (What's up with that, Logan?!)  We made it to the gate just as they started boarding.  Whew!

When we got to San Francisco, we assumed we'd have to arrange for our bags to be delivered to us yet again, but -- miracle of miracles! -- they showed up on the baggage carousel!  We couldn't believe it.  Even better, our flight got in early, there was no line at the rental car counter (and they had one Toyota Corolla left), and there was NO TRAFFIC between SFO and my sister's place in Berkeley.  And to top it all off, she had a Zachary's pizza in the oven for us when we arrived.  It was like Christmas all over again!

The next morning, we loaded up the car and the three of us drove down to Fresno to visit my parents for a belated Christmas celebration.  They've lived in the same house since I was 2, so it was yet another homecoming for me.  My parents didn't get a Christmas tree this year, so we hung the tree quilt my aunt made over the fireplace so Santa would know where to leave the gifts.  It worked!
Our Christmas tree in Fresno
Having grown up there, I can say with confidence that Fresno is one of the least interesting parts of California, but we still enjoyed our visit.  I hadn't seen my parents since the previous Christmas, so it was nice to spend some time with them, and they were equally happy to see us. My mom made many of our favorite foods -- including her famous turkey enchiladas -- and Josh enjoyed making fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning with oranges he picked from my parents' tree.  I saw a couple of my old high school friends who still live in the area, and we caught a matinee of The Muppets, which doesn't open in the UK until February.  (I LOVE the Muppets, so I couldn't wait that long!)  Thanks to a combination of jet lag and nothing better to do, we were in bed by 10:30 on New Year's Eve.

After lunch on Jan 1 we loaded up the car and drove back up to the Bay Area, dropped my sister off in Berkeley, and arrived at Josh's aunt Kris' house in Palo Alto just in time for dinner with cousin Jennifer and her family.  They are all planning a trip to the UK this summer, so we had lots to talk about.  The next morning, we went for a walk with aunt Kris, which took us through a swanky neighborhood where lots of Silicon Valley bigwigs live, like Google's Larry Page and the late Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs' house - the little trees in front are apple trees!
In the afternoon, we had a visit from cousin Jessica, who is getting married in Wales this summer (hence her mom and sister's planned trip to the UK).  We are looking forward to seeing Wales and spending time with the family -- and we're glad we won't have to fly all the way to California for the wedding (not that we don't enjoy going to California, but it's a long and expensive trip from London).  Good thing Jessica's fiance is from Wales!

That evening, we paid a quick visit to my uncle Armand, who lives 10 minutes away from aunt Kris, and then had a nice dinner with our friends Esther & Karl.  I've been friends with Esther since 4th grade, and Josh and Karl get along very well thanks to their shared love of airplanes, so we always try to see them when we're in the area.  I lived in Berkeley and Oakland for 8 years before I moved to DC, and since my mom is from San Francisco and both of her siblings and my sister live in the Bay Area, I feel like I have stronger ties to that part of California than I do to Fresno.  Especially when you add my friends (like Esther) and Josh's relatives to the equation.  I always feel a little homesick when I'm there.

We flew back to London on the 3rd. It's a 10.5-hour overnight flight from San Francisco, but it seemed a little longer thanks to the poor little girl sitting next to me, who went through an entire stack of airsickness bags and two changes of clothes -- she couldn't keep anything down.  Her mother was very apologetic and baffled, as she'd never gotten airsick before and no one else in the family was sick -- she had 2 other kids.  She thought maybe it was something the girl had eaten.  Even worse, it was her birthday.  I'm guessing she was turning 5.  Poor thing!

When we returned to our little house in London on the 4th, we were greeted with a stack of Christmas cards that had arrived while we were away.  After living out of a suitcase for 3 weeks, we were happy to be back in our own house, and sleeping in our own bed.  Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.  Well, except for all the other places that are like home...


  1. Funny, the car parked on the street in front of SJ's house looks an awful lot like his car...except that he (famously) refused to have a license plate. Wonder if someone went ahead and posthumously took care of that for him.

  2. We miss you! I'm so happy you could be part of the 2nd annual birthday trifecta, and I look foward to the third annual later this year! :)

  3. (Just catching up on your blog tonight). Sounds like you had a great, whirlwind trip. Can't believe how big and grown-up (and GORGEOUS) Laska is; I still think of her as that little girl who wanted to give a toast at your wedding. And I love the picture of Bela and Dillan (A-N, by the way) that you posted; he is such a smily guy.

  4. Matt: the car parked outside SJ's house was the same silver Mercedes with no license plate that was there last time we were in PA. I always wondered why he did that...

    Diana: Hoping for a trifecta trifecta this December!

    Kinnari: Everyone who was at our wedding is amazed when they see photos of our little flower girl all grown up. She's almost 15 and has been taller than me since she was 12. She and her little sister will definitely break some hearts along the way. I loved the way baby Dillan trills his tongue when he cries. So cute! (Thanks for catching my spelling error - I fixed it!)


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