After a little more than 5 months of international travel we were ”going, going, back, back, to Cali, Cali” Cue LL Cool J. We were pumped!
The first smiley shining face we saw after leaving departures from Tom Bradley at LAX was our pregnant friend Shastin who graciously picked us up. We contemplated Inn-n-Out, but considering rush-hour we opted to race down the 405 and get to Newport Beach where we get our serious Mexican food grub on at Sol Cocina. Five months without good Mexican food is far too long. Peter and I were severely jet-lagged and Shastin was pregnant, so in terms of communication, we were all on the same page. There were a lot of, “….wait, what was I just saying?” Or even more frequently – “I was just going to say something but I just spaced.” Peter could barely figure out the bill, wanting to convert the balance in his mind back to USD. We all needed sleep.
After dinner, Shastin drove us over to our AirBnB, a quaint one bedroom condo in Newport Beach. We engaged in more small talk with the pleasant owners who must have thought we had a learning disability with our inability to speak in a comprehending way. In the last 96 hours we had been in Botswana, South Africa, Thailand and Hong Kong so we deserved a pass for our mental extinguishes. The best part of the rental was the massive TV with DVR to record all the shows we had missed the last five months. I had missed some of the normal conveniences of US living.
My in-laws had spoiled us by dropping off our cars at the rental earlier in the day so we had wheels right when we got to town. They are fantastic and are always doing things for us to make our lives easier. So grateful for them!
Peter and I struggled to stay awake until 11pm. We didn’t want to fall asleep too early and risk waking up in the middle of the night. The next morning despite trying to stay up late, I woke up bright and early and headed over to my favorite yoga studio, Yogaworks, and signed up for a week membership. Another thing I miss about being home. Then I was off to the grocery store. I was hitting up all the normal activities to acclimate to California. To my surprise the clerk at the grocery store engaged me in conversation. It had been months since I had a real conversation with someone other than Peter in a public setting and I was actually taken aback. I could have an easy conversation with a stranger! No charades or pigeon-English necessary. She opened the door of conversation and I ran through it. She got more than she bargained for when she asked me how my morning was going. By the time my groceries were packed she knew all about our trip in Africa. Maybe she was just amusing me but she told me she wanted to visit Africa now.
Next up was Starbucks. The same thing happened. The barista was singing along to a pop song when he asked, “I love this girl. What’s her name again?” I was more excited than I should have been when I knew the answer to his question. ”Ellie Goulding” I explained. ”That’s right. Man I love her. Thank you!”
We kept having some small talk as he prepared my Americanos. Small talk, sure, but it was American English without accents or second-language and filled with all the idioms I’m used to. After I retrieved my Americanos and headed for the door I called back to the barista, “I hope you meet her someday.” He gave me a big grin, “Thanks, me too!”
I returned to the condo where Peter was working on his laptop. Feeling elated I handed Peter his coffee. ”It feels so good to be home honey. I can talk to people. I mean actually talk to people.” Peter looked at me partly confused, but couldn’t help but smile that a mundane trip to the grocery store and coffee shop had brought me such happiness.
Our trip home was fast and furious. I barely came up for air the entire time. Out trip consisted of 10 days in Orange county, 6 days in Alaska and then a few days back in Orange County before flying back to Asia.
Our second night I got together with my Orange County friends for a “Flight Club” meeting.
Five years ago I had put together a wine club with my close girlfriends. We meet just about every month where we get together and have uninhibited “girl talk”, drink wine, eat good food, and have a really great time. Shastin hosted this month’s meeting and put together a delicious feast for us. We also did a white elephant exchange and played some tipsy charades. After traveling for five months and trying to communicate with gestures, my charade game was on point. I was on cloud at Flight Club surrounded by so many lovely women. They also got me a cake and did a little birthday celebration for me since my birthday had been a couple weeks before. One of the fun things about being gone for so long is that people are really excited to see you. My dear friend Jen came back to our place in Newport where we continued the night with a slumber party. A night with girlfriends – so good for the soul.
While we were home we had a big event to celebrate, our good friends Joe and Andrea has recently got engaged. They had just moved into their new digs in Los Angeles so went headed into town to house-warm and celebrate their upcoming nuptials. It was also Andrea’s birthday. We had so much to celebrate. Andrew joined us from San Diego and we rented a two-bedroom AirBnb for the night which used to be Matthew McConaughey’s place prior to him becoming famous.
It was a big night! We started off at Joe and Andrea’s beautiful high-rise condo where we took the grand tour and had our first of many toasts. What to toast first? A couple hours later we jumped into an Uber and headed to a holiday party at Andrea’s friends house where we met all kinds of fun and interesting people that we would see again at the wedding. We ordered a late night pizza back at our rental house and Peter and Andrew had fun re-arranging the hundreds of crystals in the host’s living room. It was a wonderful night. The best part was seeing the happiness of our friends.
The socializing never stopped.
The next day the annual holiday firework show in Manhattan Beach was happening. Peter and I had been living in Hermosa Beach prior to traveling so we had many friends to hang out with. I headed out before Peter to meet up with my friend Kara, who I somehow guessed was pregnant. Pregnancies and babies were running rampant at this stage. It seemed like 75% of my friends were pregnant or had just had a baby. Such an exciting time! We later joined our friend Tara for lunch. That evening we met up with a whole herd of friends in Manhattan Beach. Brew Co in downtown Manhattan Beach was our meeting spot where friends swung by throughout the night for a drink or a catch up. In hindsight it was a bit of a mob scene due to the firework show and I didn’t get nearly enough time with everyone. I made plans to later have lunch with Gina who was also pregnant. We tried to make plans with Alysha and Johnny but sadly ran out of time. Nicole said she was coming to Bangkok and we crossed fingers to meet up. While we were all together though I soaked it all in.
During our time in Newport I also got together with my go to shopping buddy Jessica at South Coast Plaza for some retail therapy who if you can believe had just had a baby, Jameson.
10 days in Orange County came quick. It was bittersweet to leave all the fun with friends but we were headed to my hometown so I was gleefully happy for that.
Peter had gotten me a new camera for my birthday which I got my hands on when we made it to Orange County. Peter started reading the manual and learning the technicals of the camera on our travel day up to Fairbanks. Here he is playing around with it in the Seattle airport, half way to Fairbanks. What do you think? Much better?
Also, notice the Sprinkles cupcakes. My Mom loves her some Sprinkles cupcakes so we brought a dozen home for her and the rest of the family. We took the cupcakes through security at John Wayne airport that morning and when retrieving the bag from the conveyor belt at security the agent began to question me.
“Excuse me ma’am.”
“You might want to know you have a cupcake missing”
“Yes and I’d like to report a cupcake theft,” as I nodded and tilted my head towards Peter to give the culprit away.
Good to see the sense of humor with TSA.
We landed in Fairbanks and were greeted by the ever loyal and faithful “welcoming committee.”
My niece and nephew alongside my folks of course. A little blurry as we were still getting used to the camera.
The party started a never stopped while we were home. We kicked started our time there with a family dinner. My brother Chris and sister-in-law Jen were coming out to visit us in Thailand in January so we discussed many travel related topics. How many curling irons will Jen bring? What size suitcase? How do you know if someone is a lady boy? You know, the important stuff.
We had yet another birthday to celebrate. This time my Mom’s. It’s a tradition that my Mom’s birthday also officially kicks off the Christmas Holiday’s. We have a family gathering filled with good food, presents, and lots of laughter. This year was no exception, minus missing Jason, Evan, and Aunt Becky. Before the party started a group of us went to visit the much discussed Antique Car Museum in Fairbanks. If you are in to cars, it is rather impressive. Best part, dressing up in the old clothes for family pictures with the new camera
Then on to the party where we celebrated with Alaskan King Crab ( a family favorite), champagne, cake, and birthday gifts. I also had the kids help me out with some group yoga stretches.
It was this picture that made me realize that my 12 year old niece is part grown-up and about to lap me in height.
Another tradition for our family is heading out to Santa Claus House at the North Pole. Yes there is a town just outside of Fairbanks named North Pole where there’s a huge house dedicated to Santa, Mrs Claus, the Elves, and even live reindeer. Around this time of the year the place is packed so you grab a number and explore the gift shop which contains everything Christmas. It also gave us an opportunity for more fun photo shoots with the new camera.
There were stiff negotiations with Santa this year as Lil Chris asked for an Xbox and Santa wasn’t so sure what to say about that. The picture below masterfully captures his smile as he coyly asks Santa for the console. Last year when Lil Chris asked Santa for an Xbox he flat out said no; it was a calculated gamble asking a second time. It seemed 50-50 to everyone, including Lil Chris. However, whatever Lil Chris whispered into Santa’s ear must have worked because the next morning he was victorious with a nicely wrapped Xbox under the tree. I might be biased, but how do you say no to that adorable face?
After serious talks with Santa we headed out for a couple snapshots outside Santa Claus House. It was a chilly one, and after the shot we all sprinted to the warmth of the cars, but it captured my favorite family picture from the day. We just needed Jason and Evan to make it perfect.
One of Peter’s bucket list items after he started dating a girl from Alaska (me) was to see the Northern Lights, the mystic Aurora Borealis. Chena Hot Springs Resort outside of Fairbanks is one of the best places to see the lights when they are out so Peter and I headed out there with Jen and Chris to chase the Northern Lights and enjoy the hot springs. On the drive out we enjoyed the Alaskan beauty. During the winters there is less than four hours of daylight. The sun during those four hours barely makes it over the horizon so its like a really long sunset where the reflections and coloring is incredible and the whiteness of the blankets of snow shows its complexity. Really beautiful!
As we approached the Chena Hot Springs we looked over head and saw what appeared to be the Northern Lights. We pulled over and emptied out of the car. What above was the Northern Lights but not in they way you see it in pictures. It was a dull light green that was pretty weak. We weren’t going to count it. We got back in the car and charged on to the resort.
We checked in and headed to the outdoor hot springs. There’s a bit of a mystical feel being outside in -20 below zero weather while sitting in thermal hot springs surrounded by snow banks in the pitch black. The four of us waded though the darkness and steaming water and enjoyed the healing benefits of the extreme contrasts of hot and cold. We were in Alaska, the last frontier, enjoying a cold winter night in the great outdoors in a natural bath. Pretty cool for sure.
After watching the staff yell at rouge youth that were causing a scene in the hot springs we retreated to the bar where we made friends with the other patrons. Alaska is the friendliest place and the further you go out of town the friendlier people become. The people of Alaska are down to earth, welcoming, and open. It’s one of the best parts of this great state. Alaskan Proud!
After some chatter with the locals we went back to out sulfur smelling room and called it a night.
One of the other things I love about being in Fairbanks is spending time with my best friends from home. I visited with my friend Cassy, a friend since 1st grade, and her beautiful daughters and new baby boy. Keeping up with the offspring theme.
Also visited with my friend Heather and met her latest addition, Finley. Once again, it felt like 75% of my friends had new family or expecting family additions.
Christmas Eve had arrived and the family was in full tact with the arrival of Jason and Evan. Christmas Eve is a very traditional day for us. Somehow going to a heavy Mexican lunch has been thrown into the mix over the past 4 years or so. An even longer standing tradition is going to Christmas Eve Mass at my old high school and taking pictures in front of the tree before the church gathering.
After church it was back home for appetizers, wine, then homemade soup and bread for dinner. The soup tradition goes back to my Grandparents Frank and Mary that always served soup for Christmas Eve dinner. More than anything Christmas Eve is a night where we are all together. It might be the only night of the year that the family is all together under one roof so I really cherish it. As time goes on and being newly married it’s hard to say what traditions Peter and I will come up with on our own, making this year of embracing traditions especially important.
Christmas Eve is pretty predictable so we were all surprised when a sock monkey family showed up.
Another change was opening some presents on Christmas Eve. This year was a unique one for Peter and I in many ways. It was our first year as a married couple and we had been traveling for the last 5 months. As a result, we hadn’t seen either of our families for what felt like a long time. Our compromise this year was to head to Alaska and spend the days leading up to Christmas with the Hodges and leave Christmas morning back to California to spend Christmas evening with the Fotheringham’s. Ambitious? Yes! I remember having a Skype call with Devin and Lisa and after relaying our holiday plans with them, Devin chuckled and said, “Your lives are like a romantic holiday comedy.” I will take it. Peter and I opened our presents and had our family open the gifts from us. As you can see below, at least one of the gifts was a success.
Bright and early we rose the next morning. The kids wanted to make sure they said good-bye so woke up early too, checked out what Santa had brought and proceeded to fall asleep on the floor in the living room. So cute. We woke them up with hugs and headed to the airport.
Traveling on Christmas Day is actually so convenient. It was quiet everywhere. We made it back to California and enjoyed dinner with the Fotheringham’s and then opened presents. So incredible to be able to spend the Holiday with both our families. What a blessing.
We had a few days together before Peter and I headed back to Bangkok and Lisa and Devin to San Francisco. It was a wonderful few days of relaxing, eating really good food, and watching good movies. It was a nice and welcomed change of pace. I have found our families to be a perfect balance. Much like Peter and I. :)
Lisa was over 7 months pregnant at the time (theme continued) so Mary put together an intimate baby shower for just family. It was really special to be able to celebrate and shower the baby boy. We miss out on a lot of things going on back home during our travels so it was really special to be a part of this.
Peter and I had been picking up baby boy Sandoz onesies and shirts during our travels in all the different countries we had visited since the wonderful news. We had a ton of fun doing it and were excited to give them our gifts. We couldn’t have anticipated how truly touched they were by the sentiment. We were happy that they enjoyed the gifts as much as we enjoyed picking them out. We couldn’t wait to see baby Sandoz in the apparel. Double bonus: the shirt pictured below is from Trinity College where Lisa studied abroad one semester in Dublin, Ireland.
The next morning Devin and Lisa were heading back to San Francisco so we took a moment to grab some family photos that evening.
Peter and I got ourselves packed up and prepared once again to get on a plane for round two of our around the world trip. We would be exploring Asia for the next few months before we returned for Andrea and Joe’s wedding in March.
What a whirlwind!
It really did feel so good to be home for a few weeks. I felt like I got my fill of family and friends that would hold me over until we returned home again. Peter and I left California with hearts full of gratitude for such a blessed holiday season with so many wonderful friends and family. Thanks to all of you who made our time at home so special.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!