Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Going Home

After our first 15 months of cruising and landing safely in New Zealand, it was time for the crew of Bella Vita to finally make the trip home to the states to do a little visiting.

For Thanksgiving at our house we go by age - eldest first!
When we first arrived in New Zealand, to the town of Whangarei, it was a bit of a shock as suddenly we were no longer traveling in a third world country.  We marveled at the copious amount of goods that were available wherever we looked.  I almost passed out with happiness when I walked into the produce section of the local grocery and saw that not only did they have mushrooms, but I could also buy.......asparagus!!!  The colorful array of delicious looking fruit and vegetables made me feel like a nomad coming out of the desert and jumping into a swimming pool.  How soon could I start cooking?

While the youngest kids (Gwyn, Kyndal,
Lexi, Lucas and Andrew) have to sit and wait.....
While making the transition to the states wouldn't seem that different, it's a little like being in a car that rockets from zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds.  Don't get me wrong, New Zealand and capitalism are walking firmly hand in hand, but it is nothing compared to what you see in the states, where capitalism and the pursuit of entertainment have been elevated to a god-like status.

My brother Dan and wife Robyn with my brother-in-law
Scott and sister Alisa, post-meal but pre-nap!
The United States is this amazing place where virtually any item you need is just a short drive or a few clicks away.  We've all grown so accustomed to the superstores and malls that we take it all completely for granted.  But when you've been living in third world countries, it all seems wonderful and completely overwhelming at the same time.  As we made our way from Los Angeles to La Quinta we saw every store you could imagine and marveled at the purchase power of this amazing country and it's people.  We also quickly understood the expectations of our fellow drivers - which was to go FAST!  Fast is the order of the day in the USA for sure.

After the ladies did the cooking, the men have
to clean!  That's my brother Greg at the sink.
The first stop in this journey home of ours was to spend some quality time with the entire family (on my Mom's side) which included 13 adults and 9 kids - definitely a big group!  My Mom (Judy) and Lloyd love to host the family for Thanksgiving at their home in La Quinta and we were delighted to be there this year.

While we worried that going from a quiet twosome to a rowdy 21 would be overwhelming to say the least - I was pleasantly surprised at how great it felt to be among my family again.  It was almost as if we'd never been gone and it was wonderful to hang out and catch up on what we've missed with all the kids (though I'll admit pool time was still a little too much for me as it's complete chaos!).

A post-Thanksgiving football game on the back lawn.

Thanks for hosting us Teresa!
The time with everyone passed WAY too fast and soon we were off to return the car to LAX and then fly up to Seattle for a 3 week stay.  Our good friend Teresa was sweet enough to pick us up AND offer a place to stay until my brother's family returned.  We had a great weekend hanging out with Teresa and her cat Bobby, visiting some favorite old haunts and some cool new ones too.  Teresa is a fantastic cook and we have always loved to be her "guinea pigs", so with temperatures dipping into the low 20's, we had a great excuse to make a fire, have some great meals and enjoy her classic Queen Anne house - a favorite place to spend time before we left.

After my brother Greg and his family returned, we descended on their spare room, preparing for 3 weeks of shopping and a wide lineup of social gatherings.  Our calendar quickly filled - first all the nights for dinners, than it was lunches and we even squeezed in some breakfasts too.  We have so many great friends and our families also came to town, so there was a LOT of visiting to do and we didn't want to miss a minute of it.  I kept asking my sister-in-law Suzanne, "are you SURE you don't mind having us for so long???", but she aptly pointed out that we were hardly going to be there with all the things we were doing.  Good point Suz!

Ready to brave the cold for a birthday breakfast!
I couldn't believe how quickly the weeks went by.  We are humbled and amazed by the wonderful people in our life at home.  So many friends had us to their homes and it was a perfect time to share our adventures and get caught up on the past 15 months of their lives too.

Taking a break from the cold to warm up with....Fireball!
The first big highlight was a weekend out with all of my girlfriends to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my BFF Susan.  Yep, you heard it right, 20-some girls on a bachelorette party in the middle of winter with the weather in the mid-teens!  We all took the train down to Portland - which seemed a good middle ground between the Seattle and California contingents.  Suffice it to say that what happens in Portland....stays in Portland and even though it was frosty cold, we had a GREAT time.  Congratulations Susan!!!

The beautiful bride to be, our most excellent Susan!

The great Harrison feast!
Directly after the girls weekend it was time for a visit from my Dad and step-mom Linda, all the way from Colorado.  It was definitely a full house with all of us (Greg, Suzanne, their 3 girls Gabrielle, Delaney and Gwyn; Dad, Linda and Brett and I) but we had a great time and kept so busy that our time together was over when it seemed like it had just begun.  My personal favorites while we were together were buying and decorating the Christmas tree, playing liar's dice with the whole family and the dining on the Harrison customary meal of pork roast, Yorkshire pudding with gravy, and green beans cooked just about forever.  What a fantastic meal and if you're a Harrison you know it's all about the food!

Selfie with Linda!

Which one?
Trimming the tree...
The finished product!

Look at that perfect Yorkshire Pudding!
Couldn't have had a better time with this great group of people and a big thanks to Suz and Greg for hosting everyone in their house.

Next we were off to Gig Harbor (south of Seattle by about 45 minutes) to stay with Brett's uncle Ike who was hosting us along with Brett's folks - who had come down to visit all the way from Campbell River on Vancouver Island.  This is not an easy or quick trip (think a very long drive and an even longer ferry ride, than a bunch more driving), so we were very thankful they were willing to make the trip to see us. 
Siblings Ike and Bibi (Brett's mom)
Ike had the house decorated and ready for a traditional Swedish family gathering.  It was wonderful to get to spend some time with Brett's parents (Bibi and Kent) and we even got to spend some time with the world's most adorable toddler (Alrek) and his dad Leif (Brett's cousin and Ike's son).   Ike and Brett's mom put on a great meal with all the traditional fixings (meatballs, ham, potatoes, brussel sprouts and sil salad).  A big thanks to Ike for opening his home and allowing us to stay - it was great to see everyone and we only wish we'd had time to stay longer!

The traditional Swedish Christmas meal...
Three Swedes - Ike, Alrek and Leif

Expert gingerbread house decorator at work!
Soon, Christmas Eve was upon us and we had another great day with the Harrison clan.  In the morning we started a 1000 piece Santa puzzle that consumed various people throughout the day.  There was also gingerbread house building, drink mixing (Suz is the MASTER bartender and made some incredible Cable Cars - highly dangerous!) and of course food!  What kind of holiday would it be without another amazing meal?  This time it was prime rib and all the trimmings (including my personal favorite, mashed potatoes!).

Suzanne's brother Mike, wife Kim and daughter Lexi joined the fun, along with my grandpa Harry (my mom's dad) to complete the family gathering.  Much fun was had, much eating was done and we finished the night with another Harrison family tradition - the chocolate fountain.  I'm not posting pictures of that to protect the innocent....
Prime rib cooked to perfection by Suz

Greg, grandpa Harry and Stacey

Sisters: Gwyn and Delaney

Late night, but finished!
Oh - and that puzzle?  Since it was our last night there, Greg, Brett and I stayed up to 2am finishing it and the time spent together was worth every minute of lost sleep.  I can't express how grateful I am to have had so much time with my brother and his wonderful family.  You guys are the best and we can't thank you enough for welcoming us into your home. 

Alas, our time in Seattle had to end, and while we LOVED catching up with all of our friends, family and past co-workers, we were kind of exhausted and ready for a little R&R after all our running around.    So off we went back to La Quinta to spend some time at THE place to relax - Wiebe Casa South.  Our stay there was just what the doctor ordered - totally chill with a good amount of quality time with my Mom (Judy) and Lloyd.  

While most folks envision that our boating trip is comprised of the harshness of being at sea or the mellowness of chilling with a cold beverage on the beach - the reality is there is constant pressure from a long list of chores that need to taken care of.  So even when you ARE enjoying your beverage of choice, there is a mountain of maintenance hanging over your head.  Having 3 weeks to just relax and do almost nothing was a rare treat.  I can't believe how many books I read!  It was thanks to Mom & Lloyd that we were able to come home at all, so I remain eternally grateful for our time together and only wish it hadn't flown by so fast.  Thank you for make this trip home a reality - it was everything we could have hoped for and more.
Thanks Mom & Lloyd for bringing us back to visit!