21 Days in the USA

For Christmas break this year, we took the long trip back to the US to visit family for the first Christmas since we moved to China. Paul’s last Christmas in San Antonio was in 2012, five years ago and before we even decided to go international. Needless to say, it was long overdue.

School was out on Friday December 8, super early for a Christmas break, but since CNY is coming up in February, it made sense to keep them as far apart as possible. We packed up our stuff and headed to the airport early Saturday morning for the long journey to San Antonio. Since tickets were super pricey, we opted to fly into Houston, which was 1/3 of the price of a ticket into SA, but it also meant a 3 hour drive when we arrived. The travel was mostly uneventful. We had a short layover in Narita airport, but made the most of it eating sushi, drinking local beer and shopping for all the cool Japanese things.

Donnie’s parents were awaiting us when we arrived in Houston, so we jammed all our luggage in the trunk and took the drive to SA. I was very tired and sore from sitting for so long, but we opted for a meal at Chuy’s, which was a perfect way to start our holiday trip home. We were all so exhausted, but for some reason, the three of us were up and awake at 2:30am the next day. We watched a few holiday movies and faded in and out of sleep, but the day was pretty unproductive. We did manage to run our favorite 10k trail run, and hit HEB for some essentials (toiletries, sparkling water, greek salad and beer). Honestly, the first few days were just a blur of doing just that. A few hours of sleep, a run, and then HEB for whatever we were going to cook that day. It was a relaxing start to the holiday, and most of our friends were all still working so we didn’t feel too bad about being so anti-social. We did do a last minute get together to watch the Spurs play. Some of Donnie’s friends came out to meet us and it was great to catch up with them.  Paul enjoyed hanging at home with Colonel and his grandparents, although we did make time for a doctor’s and dentist appointment.

In the midst of our jetlag, we did end up selling our old Fiat, which Donnie’s parents had been taking care of for the last 5 years. We sold it to one of my old Oak Grove friends, and it was good to catch up and chat with her. I know our car has found a good home. 🙂

The first of our break was nearly over, and we really had very little to show for it. It was fine with me though, I was in the mood for relaxation. We had a busy weekend planned though, starting with going to see the new Star Wars movie. We had purchased the tickets while we were in the midst of our early morning wake-ups, so opted for a 5am showing. The theater was empty, but the movie was packed with people. It was an awesome show, Paul was so excited he woke up every hour from 1am to ask if it was time to go yet. He promised me he wouldn’t fall asleep during it, and he didn’t. After the movie, we went home and had some breakfast, then I went out to bring my Oak Grove teacher friends some lunch. I hadn’t seen most of them in a year and half or more, so it was nice to catch up with them. We had a tradition of Thai Fridays when I worked there, and I was sorry to learn that they’re all too busy to keep it up. I was more than happy to bring them Thai food on that Friday though. After a couple hours visiting, it was time to head home and pack for a quick trip to DC with Donnie!

Donnie had wanted to make our DC trip a secret trip, but he doesn’t keep secrets very well, so he told me about it in November. He found ridiculously cheap tickets ($140 R/T total!), and we planned on using hotel points to stay at some Hiltons around the city. We arrived around 10pm on Friday night and headed to the nearby airport Hilton. We had some dinner, watched the Spurs, and then got some sleep with big plans to explore the city the next day.

We got a little later start than I would’ve liked (that was my fault), and we were on our way on the metro by 10am. I have to say, DC as our nation’s capital has a disappointing metro system. It took a long time and the not all the trains were running. But we made it down to near the White House to drop our stuff at our next hotel for the night (which was only 2 blocks from the White House).

From there, we set off to explore the area nearby, starting with the White House. It was a cold, but clear day and we walked down to see the president’s helicopter landing and then taking off from the lawn. We stood there and marvelled at it for a while, took lots of pictures, then went to meet up with my friend Liann. Liann has been a friend of mine since middle school, and the last time I’d seen her was when she came to visit me a few years ago here in China. It’s always great to see her, and easy to pick up where we left off, and she lives in DC, so she kindly volunteered to play tourist (and tourist guide) with us for the day.

We all walked down to see the Washington Monument, then each of the war memorials (WWII, Vietnam, Korean), and walked along the reflecting pool to see the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve never been to DC before, so it was awesome to see all the monuments and scenery you see so much in movies and on tv. The National Mall is an awe-inspiring space and I was really impressed.

From there we went to the Holocaust museum, which was very sobering and sad (no pics, sorry) And from there, we set out to find some food, our hotel breakfast finally wearing off. Liann had plans with some friends that night, so we bid her goodbye with some tentative plans to see her the next day and headed back to the hotel for some wine and room service before some good sleep. Before we went to bed, Donnie secured us tickets for the Redskins game the next day!

Sunday morning we managed to get a small workout in before fighting the crowd at the hotel breakfast. We then made a plan to find the easiest way to get out to the football game. Unfortunately, you can’t bring bags into the stadium and there are no lockers at the metro stations, so we had to leave our bags at the hotel, knowing we’d have to make our way back to get them. From there we joined the crowds of fans on the metro, and followed the flow of people to the stadium.

The tickets that Donnie had procured were excellent, row 19 near the 40 yardline, and only for $50! I think we spend more than that on concessions during the game, but it was great fun to be a part of the fans and back in a football stadium. I can’t remember the last time we’d been to a game. They were playing the AZ Cardinals, so I was a little torn about who to root for, but the Redskins ended up winning in an exciting game. It was well worth the journey, and sitting in the cold.

Liann graciously picked us up from the game and we drove about 45 minutes to have dinner at a Dogfish Head tap room. We were like kids ordering and trying out their beers, but I was tired and I ate too much. We said goodbye again to Liann, hopefully to see her in the future sometime soon, and she dropped us at the metro to head back downtown to get our bags. We traveled for over 3 hours to get our stuff and then get back out to our airport hotel and had very little sleep before catching our 6am flight back to San Antonio. It was a quick, but fun secret trip and I’m so thankful to Liann and Donnie for making it happen.

Monday was a blur, mostly due to lack of sleep, but we did try to go get my phone fixed, which ended up with a non functional new phone. I still haven’t got it up and running yet. We did some shopping for Christmas on Tuesday, along with our run and HEB shopping, and on Wednesday we met up with the Birthday Club. I hadn’t seen most of them in a year or even two. There are lots of changes, divorces, marriages, pregnancies, but it’s always fun to see them. We made it a co-ed event, and everybody brought their husband/boyfriend and ate at a new burger place in Southtown. The food was mediocre, but the company was excellent. Afterwards, Dodge and her hubby Ryan met us at another bar to finish the Spurs game and hangout a little longer. She’s doing so well, and I loved getting to spend some extra time with her. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them again over the break, but I tried to talk her into visiting since Ryan flies to Shenzhen for work.

Thursday we spent prepping for the arrival of family, Angie’s brother and his wife, along with my mom were coming into town the next day and we wanted to make sure we helped with the preparations. Other than that Thursday and Friday were low key days with running, shopping and prep for Christmas.

By Friday night, everybody was in town and we had a blast catching up and watching sports (we did a lot of that on this trip). The next morning, as early as we could muster, I took my mom and Diane out for Christmas shopping. We actually did pretty good, but it took us a while to get it all finished. I think we were out the door by 10:45am and not home until 3pm. We had planned to go see the lights downtown that night, but everybody was so tired from shopping, we decided to cook at home and hang out.

The next day was Christmas Eve! I had no real plans to do anything except wrap and lay low, but Donnie got me out of the house to do some running and quick last minute shopping. Ron and Angie spent most of the day at Church, and the rest of us were pretty lazy. I did manage to bake a couple of pumpkin pies and I got all my presents wrapped before nightfall! The evening was spent watching football and anxiously awaiting Santa. I called Andie who was celebrating with Alayna, Matt and Ben, and got to see them all together celebrating a white Christmas in Seattle! The evening came to a close, so Paul and Donnie, who had spent the previous night in a tent in the backyard, went back out to sleep there again. However at 2:30am they burst back into the house following a puking session by Paul. Mom and I nursed Paul for a couple of hours, and he finally went back to sleep around 4am, with hopes that he would be well again by daylight.

He was feeling much better and woke Donnie and I up at around 8am to open presents. We managed to stall him for an hour while everybody else woke up and got some coffee, but he was so eager we couldn’t wait any longer. He opened his biggest present first, which was the one that he had been begging Santa for for months. He was overjoyed and it was kind of hard to get him to focus on his other presents. I got a new Fluentz to learn Italian and some other nice gifts, and Donnie got a huge new Bose speaker to boost our sound situation in China. I love watching everybody open their gifts and I love the mellow day that follows the excitement. I forced Donnie out for another run, and then we made a yummy feast for dinner (including Christmas Curry!). Donnie’s cousins joined us for the last half of the day, and it was great to see them. I can’t remember the last time we’d all been together, had to be at least 7 years, so it was fun to see what they’ve been up to. The day came to a close with full bellies and more football, and I was happy to crawl in bed after another successful holiday. 🙂

The next day, we tried to get up early and out of the house, but had little luck. Donnie, Paul, my mom and I made the quick-ish drive up to Austin, where Matt and Alayna, and Andie and Ben had arrived the day before. We didn’t really have a plan for the day, and it was horrible weather (cold and wet), so we did a small gift exchange at home before heading out to eat at a yummy TexMex institution, Guero’s. It was so good, and again, I felt like I ate too much, but it was nice to be in the company of my siblings and laugh so much. We decided that it was too late in the day to do anything productive, so Donnie, Alayna and Matt went to gather a couple essentials (Crown and Anchor koozies, namely) and find a place to watch the Spurs game. Paul was in a bad mood, so we opted to leave him with Mom at the hotel room we had rented for night and went out to meet up with everybody at a place called Frank. It ended up being really fun, even though we were all tired and Andie and I were starting to get sick. We got back to the hotel room and Paul was still grumpy, so we all just went to bed.

The next day was Paul’s 7th birthday, so we got up early, had a quick breakfast and left the hotel by 10am. Andie was kind enough to chauffeur us to and from our car, and we were back on the road to SA in no time, which was good because we had party planning and shopping to do. We dropped Paul and Mom off at home and made the rounds to the stores gathering party supplies and drinks (we had enough leftover Christmas food to serve an army). Then we rallied almost everyone in the house to help set up and prepare for the party, even Paul helped by decorating his own cake. I was barely ready when everybody started showing up. It was a blast, so many people made an appearance. We played limbo, had a pinata (in the garage due to weather), had cake and opened presents. My family was there, Donnie’s friends and family were there, and we had quite a few kids show up and hang out. I wasn’t feeling too well, so I was pretty exhausted following the party. I opted for bed, while Donnie hung out with his friend Efren watching more football.

Thursday was a packing day, we did a run and a little post Christmas shopping. and my family drove down to hangout for the Spurs game. Mom and Donnie’s aunt and uncle left that day and the house became quiet again. Our vacation was slowly coming to a close. Friday was another early start, dropping off the rental car, shopping and then packing again. We had a yummy BBQ lunch at a local restaurant, and then piled into the car for the journey back to Houston. The night was low key, hanging out in our hotel rooms before an early start the next day. At 5am, We said goodbye to Ron and Angie, thanking them for all they’ve done for us and then started our journey home.

The flights were long and we got home around 10:30pm on New Year’s eve. No fancy activities for us, just showers, pizza and sleep before it even hit midnight. Luckily there is no school for us today, although we go back tomorrow! Happy 2018 everybody!

We had a wonderful time in SA, seeing everybody and having our family nearby is amazing, but I’m looking forward to the holidays in Italy next year. 😉

Much love to all, and I hope everyone had a love-filled holiday season! Here’s to a new year and more great adventures!

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