Sunday, November 27, 2016

MMM Part 2 and Thanksgiving Homecoming

We spent most of the week on our trip in the Midwest, coming home on Thanksgiving Day. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with our friends in Detroit, and we look forward to future reunions. We also got to know Chicago a little bit and look forward to a return trip when the weather is more favorable.

The kids have taken full advantage of the variety of food the hotel serves for breakfast. . . .

Monday morning we went south of the border to Windsor, Canada. We took the bridge over and the tunnel back just to say we did. Since losing the weight, Hallie has dreamed of going to the Roots Canada Outlet to try on clothes that fit. She was not disappointed! This time Hallie, not the kids, got the goods. How excited she was to be able to buy a large sweatshirt and large sweatpants that even seem to be too big in the legs.

We also went to some favorite Canadian stores to stock up on goodies we have sorely missed. Good thing we packed light. Among the highlights: Kinder Surprise Eggs and advent calendar, Nanaimo bars, maple syrup and bacon flavored popcorn (think Chicago mix but not), chocolicious snack mix (think trail mix and then some), and poutine. Good thing we don’t make going to Canada a habit. They’d have to roll us back across the river. Much to our dismay, the local Costco has stopped selling Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. We had also forgotten that Canada had stopped using pennies and felt a bit funny when we tried to give the cashier some pennies. 

We couldn’t spend the whole day indulging our appetites, so we finally went back stateside, driving up Jefferson and stopping in Grosse Pointe.

We spent a little time at the Ewald Library on Maryland Street, drove by the old house and past Defer Elementary, and ended up at Starbuck’s in the Village, where we happened to run into our friend Sara while we waited to meet up with Bro. Banks from the branch and Diamond. 

We spent some time chatting with our friends before going up to the Taylors’ house for another visit. The boys and Eliza played while the grownups solved the world’s problems. Good times! We were grateful to be able to reconnect. Oh how we miss the days of sitting on the porches and being Grosse Pointe Hillbillies. Our chats were easy going, and it was a joy to see the kids so happy.

Our last stop for the day was back down at Sander’s in the Village, where we visited with Jen and Bryan Carney and Diamond over cream puff sundaes. If, you have never had a cream puff sundae then you are definitely missing out. Hallie was so excited to get a sundae. As soon as they were delivered the kids took over and Hallie received the melted ends. Again, another reason to go back to Detroit. As this was our last night in Detroit, we also bid teary-eyed farewells to Diamond and resolved to get back before another 2 years pass us by. Diamond has done so well for herself and we are so proud of her.  

Tuesday was a travel day back to Chicago. We set out at a leisurely pace and got there in the afternoon. We got a classic stuffed deep dish pizza from Giordano’s, and that along with our Zehnder’s leftovers set us up meal-wise for both Tuesday and Wednesday. Part of our trip followed a leg of Route 66 that we had not driven on our Christmas 2010 road trip. Each new hotel is an adventure for the kids, and this one was no exception.  

We went to Chicago on Wednesday. Rainy weather had come in, so we spent most of our time at the Navy Pier and at the Chicago Children’s Museum. The kids spent several hours exploring all the exhibits and activities. They especially enjoyed the Zoom Room, Dinosaur Exhibition, the Tinkering Lab, and the catapults in the Main Hall. Hallie had wanted to see Michigan Avenue but due to traffic we skipped that experience and left it until next time.

We spent the day in the air on Thanksgiving Thursday. The kids were very well behaved on the planes, and we can thank Grandpa and Grandma Owens for the Kindles that kept them very busy a majority of the time. 

Due to Thanksgiving, traffic was lighter than normal getting home. We grabbed Jack in the Box for dinner after abandoning Denny’s when the waitress failed to show up after we sat at the booth for several minutes. Upon our arrival at home and getting reacquainted with Fergus, it didn’t take long for a load of laundry and unpacking to begin. The daily grind has started back up again just like that. All too soon we transitioned from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

On Friday morning, Christmas decorations came out and other things got put away. This year Eliza really got into the magic. She got all excited about getting out the tree and setting it up and looking at all the decorations. We didn’t get very far (we haven’t yet hung up the ornaments on the tree, for instance), but we did the important stuff such as hanging stockings and setting the LEGO train under the tree. Except for the kids fighting over who gets to use it, we really have fun running the train around and around . . . and around and around . . . the tree in a neverending loop. We must like it because we bought another LEGO train to go with the winter village (which village, along with the garlands, may not go up this year).

Hallie and Landon and Mike and Eliza each ran separate sets of errands to restock the pantry in the afternoon. Part of running errands meant getting mail from the post office. Eliza received an invitation to join the Level 2 team in gymnastics. Congratulations!

In the evening, the kids were driving her nuts, so Hallie ran yet more errands. At Trader Joe’s, she found a pecan pie sample, much to her delight.

We had our real Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday with Grandma and Grandpa O. and Alie. To prepare, Mike and Eliza ran errands while Hallie watched Cru and Finnley while Sawyer was at a mom and tot gymnastics class at Monarchs and Landon worked out at Victory.

One of Mike’s errands involved replacing his ceramic mate gourd which somehow did not manage to make the trip back from Chicago. TSA inspected one of our bags, and it might have been in there. Or it might have fallen out of Landon’s backpack. Mike had packed the gourd in newspaper, and he thought he had packed it in Eliza’s bag, but it might have made it into Landon’s carry-on backpack. Hallie and Landon mentioned having seen and discarded a wad of paper while on the airplane. Anyway, the bottom line is that one of the two mate gourds we had bought while in Argentina in 2002 is now gone (the other is in Mike’s CLU office). Mike was really bummed out about it. He also needed a replacement. Turns out ceramic Asian tea cups fit the bill. Also turns out that Cost Plus World Market had ceramic tea cups on sale, and he found one that, while not the other cup, will do nicely.

Everyone beat the rain back home, and we arrived to a home cozy with heat from the turkey roasting in the oven. A little later, Gma, Gpa, and Alie came over, and we had our tasty fare.

We had our normal activities on Sunday, a quiet lead-in to what is sure to be a bumpy transition into the upcoming week’s activities. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Michigan Memory Making, Part I

Mike helped present a paper at a conference in Detroit, and since we all knew he was going well in advance, the four of us made traveling back to an early Christmas present. While the kids may not have many other presents this year, we anticipate that they will treasure many memories from fond reunions with friends and places we have missed since our move.   

On Monday Eliza participated in her Daisy Investiture with the Girl Scouts. While she won’t be able to attend weekly meetings due to a schedule conflict with gymnastics, we look forward to her participating in other Daisy activities in the future.

We headed to the airport Tuesday, finally getting to embark on a trip we have been looking forward to for the last several months. So many people to see again, places to see, and things to do! Somehow we had forgotten how long it has been since either little one has been on a plane –not since December 2012! – so getting to fly was a really big deal!

Hallie got us a sweet deal on airfare, but this meant flying into Chicago and driving the rest of the way. No biggie. We know how to do road trips, and besides, this meant we got to travel to two big cities for a great price. We landed in Chicago fairly late and drove on to Michigan City, Indiana for night one.

On Wednesday, we drove from Indiana to our hotel in Michigan. We spent a fair amount of the day driving across the state. We stopped off for lunch at Culver's, and the sweet man behind the counter interacted with Eliza very tenderly and gently as if she was an important person worth hearing out. Midwesterners are beautiful like that.

Upon arriving in metro Detroit, we hit late afternoon rush hour traffic. We also saw that we would have to wait to check into our hotel until after Landon’s gymnastics practice. Yes, Landon had gymnastics practice while we were out here. Along I-94, the low fuel light came on coincidentally near to a part of the city we know, so we hopped off the expressway and drove to our old gas station. We took Conner to Jefferson to Lakeshore before finally reconnecting with I-94 in St. Clair Shores and arriving 20 minutes later than we had hoped at Cutting Edge in Clinton. Excellent facility and people, and we feel very grateful that they were able to give Landon some training time and an opportunity to show off his skills.

Diamond was able to meet us there after she got off of work, and in fact she beat us there due to our sidetrack. Yay for family reunions! We were so excited to see her again after nearly two years’ time.

We did some browsing at the Christmas Tree Shops before finally making it to the hotel in Madison Heights and checking in fairly late with two energetic kids still operating on Pacific Time. We did finally manage to get them settled down so Mike could do at least some work that evening.

Thursday morning brought the next set of reunions, this time with Mike’s coworkers from Wayne State University. People and activities continue moving forward, and Mike felt happy to catch up with colleagues on campus that day. The kids geeked out over all the leaf piles. Funny what kids latch onto. 

After our visit there, we headed out to Dearborn, meeting up again with Diamond at (of course) The Henry Ford. The trip would not have been complete without walking through those halls. Landon did not remember as much as we might have thought, but what he did remember he remembered well. We hit the Wienermobile, the combine, the Rosa Parks bus, and the auto shop, and of course Hallie had to get some mac and cheese at the Michigan Café. The museum and restaurant have undergone some subtle if significant changes in our absence. Now they have a grilled cheese sandwich with mac and cheese and bacon. Too much of a good thing is wonderful!

From the museum, we drove back up to the hotel, where everybody else left Mike to work while they trekked over to The Detroit Shoppe at the Somerset Collection in Troy. It’s hard work to burn the kiddos’ boundless energy.

On Friday, we spent some time in the morning in St. Clair Shores and Grosse Pointe, stopping at the Sanders Outlet, taking a ride along the lake and gawking at the mansions, and paying a brief visit to our old neighborhood and house on Maryland Street. So many happy memories for the grownups, and a few for Landon too. He told us he wants to move back. We didn't linger as we didn't want to look like stalkers.

We met Diamond after she got off work up at Olga’s in St. Clair Shores before driving back down to her house on Alter Road and then on to The D Shop at Comerica Park and Detroit Mercantile over by Eastern Market.

Landon and Coach Glenn

A word about the weather at this point: We came into town on the leading edge of a storm front (note the children in short sleeves in November). This meant sun and relative warmth through Friday afternoon. So gorgeous! Golden light off the plentiful remaining fall leaves made for plenty of autumn eye candy. Friday night into the weekend brought more typical November weather: clouds and rain/snow. Grr. Mike does not miss the cold. 

All too soon it was time for Mike to teach his doctoral students and make sure his end of Saturday’s presentation was ready and for Landon to get back to practice. So, we dropped Mike off and went back up to Clinton Township again. Good thing we know these roads as we already have spent a lot of time on them this trip!

Mike presented with his friend and former student, Shaun, at the UCEA Convention on Saturday. The two had a successful session with rousing conversations, and he saw a few other familiar faces as well. We also had a chance to meet each other’s families.

While Mike was at his conference, Hallie took Landon to Extreme Gymnastics, and he had a chance to visit with Coach Shane.

Then she picked up Diamond and grabbed a quick bite at Legends Diner. After Mike was done with the conference for the day, we drove first to Menards to see their “enchanted forest” (a bust – too funny/sad when we realized that the forest was their artificial Christmas trees displayed among fake snow and Astroturf trails. Oh, well) and from there to El Charro in Fraser, where Hallie had a surprise waiting for Landon: a reunion with our old next-door neighbors, the Taylors! The boys picked right back up where they left off, and this left Eliza in a bit of a lurch because she remembered Owen too and wanted to play.

After partaking in some tasty Mexican cuisine, we drove to The Great Skate in Roseville to burn off some energy. After a little learning curve, the kiddos took off like the little athletes they are. Even Diamond and Hallie got into the act.

By about 30 minutes in, guess who's skating backwards?

Skating finished, but the evening wasn’t quite done, so we took the wired-up kids to a McDonald’s playscape near the hotel to play some more. So too much! 

Sunday arrived with freezing winds. We drove down to the Belle Isle Building for church and happy reunions with friends from the branch still living in the area. So much joy to see them! It makes us nostalgic.

We revised some of our plans for Monday to extend our visiting time, so this meant we chose to go up to Frankenmuth today. Diamond had never been, so we went to Bronner’s and Zehnder’s to show off those two marvels of excess. So too full!

Then we went back to the hotel, and thus ended the first few days of our early Christmas in Michigan. More to follow next week. . . .