Friday, July 11, 2008

7/11/08 Home again!

We're back! Got in last night, everyone in bed past 12:30pm, yet kids up by 7am. What's that about?!

Is it good to be home? Yes, but as with every trip back East, I find myself torn about where "home" is. I loved being around the trees, soft rolling hills, lush green, the earthy scents and fragile familiar. The practical side of me remembers well how old winter gets around February, so it's hard to imagine moving back East, but as it was my childhood place it's very much ingrained. And now, my own children were enjoying playing at my Dad's house the same way I did, so that too brought on much of the feeling of being "at home." I have bipolar tugs of wanting to be in a charming rural area with historic old barns, but also wanting to be in a dense, exciting city, and somehow ended up with neither in the suburbs.

Of course, home really is where the family is, and while all my origin family is back East, my immediate family's home is California. And that's not all a bad thing, even if California is in much the same state as we left it: with a constant haze in the sky putting an eerie red cast on the sunlight. I hear we missed a nasty heat wave, though we had our share of sticky humidity back East too. Last night at the airport, Gabriel, Katrina and I waited for Dave and Julian to get our car out of long-term parking and pick us up at the curb, and it was so warm I was down to a T-shirt. This is unheard of in San Francisco on a July evening!

Everyone recalls my great angst about flying with a toddler, a justified angst, and there were times in the airport before boarding the plane that I knew everyone was thinking "PLEASE don't seat me next to that screaming baby!" Fortunately my worst nightmares were not met. The redeye to the East went well; Katrina had a hard time falling asleep, but once she did, she stayed zonked through a bumpy landing. On the way back, she was a lot of work to keep entertained, but no screaming disasters. She kicked the seat in front of her a lot, which fortunately held a patient young teenage boy.

The travel disaster we almost had was nearly missing our plane on the way home. I'm not sure how this happened, but it took a really, really long time to get from the rental car to the gate, what with all the elevators we had to take, often having to wait for them. One elevator started to close when Julian was in it and we were negotiating the SmarteCarte into it, and it took some frantic work and someone's help to pry the doors open. And that's after a HUGE cart of luggage almost fell on him exiting an elevator on our arrival trip! Julian and elevators were not a good mixture this trip.

We were also late to the airport because I made another fundamental navigation mistake: never, EVER take the Garden State Parkway to Newark Airport, and definitely don't take the exit that says "I-78 Newark Airport" because it sends you the wrong way on the Interstate and expects you to know to get off at the first exit and turn around, without signs of course. Freakin' New Jersey!! But it's my own fault; I've made that mistake at least 3 times now.

Then we faced a long, LONG security line, with our plane already well past boarding time. I cut ahead and asked if I could go through security right away so I could sprint to the gate and ask them to hold the plane. But first I went down the wrong spoke to the wrong set of gates, and had to run all the way back, down a long corridor, then all the way to the end of another spoke. I made it to the gate and found that the plane had another 15 minutes of boarding, but I didn't have my phone or a way to contact Dave, who was still going through security with the kids. So I ran back to find him, but couldn't. After some frantic searching of the security line, a nice security guard let me use his cell phone to call Dave, who answered and said, "Where are you? We're on the jetway!" SH*T! I'd passed them somehow! ANOTHER sprint through the crowded airport to the gate, where I was the last one on the plane. No time to buy food or guilty-pleasure junk reading.

For all our narrow miss, we sat on the plane for an hour and a half before it took off, as the lines on the taxiway are long that time of day. Once we were in the air, things overall went well, and from there, it was a real relief to be home.

One amusing (?) incident: the boys got cheap foam pop-guns that shoot little foam "bullets" from Target while we were in upstate NY. I packed them in their checked luggage, partly with the hopes they'd be forgotten about. But Julian remembered on the plane before we took off, and asked loudly: "Are our guns packed in the luggage?" Yeah, great question to ask on a crowded airplane!

We started off at my sister's family's artloft in Peekskill, then just the Doudnas went to Pennsylvania, where we stayed with Bonne Maman and Papa Paul for July 4. My brother and his lovely girlfriend Anney came too, then my sister and her family, then Papa Paul's son and his girlfriend, so we had a big group for July 4! The one thing we didn't have was fireworks, unfortunately -- inexplicably, the nearest town's big parade and celebration was on July 5, a Saturday. It was a wonderful, relaxed visit, and grandparents and grandkids enjoyed each other greatly.

Then we drove to my Dad's place, "we" being my sister and her family, and my brother and his girlfriend (in my brother's bad-ass new pickup), and us. Dave flew in, rented a car (a 2-door Mustang that I hated), and joined us too. We'd rented a nearby farmhouse to sleep in, as my Dad's old 3BR-1BA house couldn't easily accomodate 6 adults and 5 children. The nearby farmhouse was an active dairy farm when we were kids, and we used to visit it and try to milk the cows, so it was interesting to be there as adults.

A highlight was visiting my Dad at his new residence and getting to know his new lady love and her family. Incredibly, she also has a daughter who lives in Sunnyvale! What are the odds! Her other daughter lives in an affluent community in Massachussetts, and they very kindly invited us all for a visit, including Dad and his lady. Their house was stunning, a beautifully restored 1907 3-story mansion on expansive grounds that include gardens, a lovely pool, and tennis courts. It was a wonderful place to visit and enjoy lunch and get to know this family, and spend time with Dad and his friend, amongst others who completely understand. Dad's lady friend is a little more together than he is, but they're really very similar in their cognitive levels and seem to find great comfort in each other, as we did with her family.

The kids had a great time playing outside at my Dad's place. It was interesting watching play erupt between any combination of them: sometimes it was just the boys, or just the girls; other times the play was more aligned by age, other times it was completely random. They really didn't have a lot of toys to speak of (though the foam guns were a big hit); mostly they played in this little "beach" area (where a plow accidentally dumped a bunch of sand by the road last winter), or rode bicycles up and down the dirt road, followed the hapless cat, and did any number of kid-things. The house is small and not well-suited for 5 children playing indoors, so thank heavens the weather held, though we were treated to a rousing thurderstorm right as we said goodbye.

A random selection of photos:

At a lovely county park in Peekskill

Ronan's "new" pickup, a big hit with the kids

Bonne Maman and all 5 grandkids, not exactly staged and Katrina wasn't cooperative, but it's the only shot I have

Aidan and Julian explore what we call the cornfield (and it did used to have corn)

Ronan and his girlfriend left early after dropping off the pickup -- bye Ro!

The kids playing outside Dad's house

Dad and Norma, with Norma's visiting son-in-law and Norma's daughter, at her house(estate!) in Massachussetts. A first-ever photo that includes all the Doudnas and all the Engels! I really regret not getting Norma's other daughter, other son-in-law, or two handsome grandsons, in the photo.

Preparing a salad in Dad's very, very rustic kitchen (use matches to light the stove and oven)

The cousins, under an old crab-apple tree where Dad used to send us to finish crying, hence the name "the crying tree":

Despite the arduous travel, for me our summer visit with family is an annual highlight, and I hope it becomes so for the kids too. I know at some point they'll want to do their own thing during the summers, so I'm glad they're forming a solid foundation for extended-family relationships for their whole lives to come.


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