Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Turkey Day Travel

Sara at Wife-Mommy-Woman is hosting this week's Blog Roundup on one of my favorite topics - Thanksgiving travel. 

Late November is perhaps the time of year when, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I start getting pangs of homesickness.  So much so that I've only spent three and a half Thanksgivings away from my immediate family.  My freshman year in college, I went to my aunt and uncle's house in VA for a wonderful weekend with family and friends and food.  My junior year in college, I spent Thanksgiving in a literature class at the Sofitel Hotel in Khon Kaen, Thailand.  We didn't get classes canceled, but we did have class while eating a buffet lunch that included turkey.  Three years ago I loaded my suitcases full of pumpkin pie filling, french fried onions, cream of mushroom soup, and cranberry sauce and flew to Oxford, England, where one of my best friends and I made a traditional American turkey dinner for her flatmates and classmates.  Last year was the half year. 

I was living in DC and was all set to spend Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's house again, with most of the extended family.  Which is always a fun time.  Except that I knew that all three of my brothers and all the assorted nieces/nephews would be gathering at home in NH, for the first time in forever.  I hadn't planned to go home because missing work on the Friday after would mean losing per diem for that day, and I didn't want to deal with that.  But Wednesday morning of Thanksgiving week, I woke up feeling like I wanted to go home.  So I started thinking.  I decided it would be rude to miss Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family in VA (I really wanted to see all the cousins et al), but since my brothers wouldn't all be there until Friday, I might be able to do both.  What's a 500 mile drive each way when it's holidays at home??  So, feeling a bit crazy, I called my above-mentioned friend (also living in DC and from the same home town), and she agreed to join me.  We planned to leave after dinner on Thursday, drive through the night, and then head back Sunday.  Crazy, indeed.  The best part?  We didn't tell our families.  I had a really hard time not telling my parents (especially as I tried to figure out where everyone was sleeping while on the phone with my mom), but I managed. 

Thursday morning I packed everything up before heading over to my aunt and uncle's.  Hattie got really worried when I pulled out suitcases, thinking she'd be left behind, so I left the suitcases in the apartment while I went to VA.  Thanksgiving was, as always, a lot of fun.  When all the aunts and uncles and cousins and Grandma get together, we tend to reminisce and laugh hysterically most of the time.  Lots of good senses of humor.  I felt badly leaving so soon after a delicious dinner, but everyone understood.  (They're used to my crazy ideas by now, but I promised to email when I got home to let them know I made it safely.)  A quick stop at home to pick up the luggage and Hattie, a quick stop in MD to pick up L, and we were off!  We left about 8:30 pm and made great time almost all the way.  The only traffic we encountered was getting onto the GW Bridge in NYC.  We switched off driving and caffeinated well and reached our hometown at about 4:30am.  We made awesome time, in other words.

I dropped L off at her house (making sure she made it inside before I took off, as we weren't sure the doors would be open) and headed home.  My plan was to bed down in the kids' room (some of the only open space at that time of night).  About an hour later, my six year-old niece woke up and found me on the floor next to her.  She gave me a big hug and then ran into my brother's room, where my three year-old nephew had snuck into at some point during the night, yelling "Aunt Sadie's here!"  My brother of course didn't believe her and did a double take when I popped my head around the door.  My nephew woke up at about that point, so I got another big hug and then went into the living room to watch cartoons with the kids.  I tried to nap in a chair, but that was futile.  After another hour, my father woke up.  He walked downstairs, saw me, and smiled brightly.  Cue another big hug.  My mother woke up a bit later.  I was in the kitchen with my brothers and the kids, and Mom was still a bit sleepy.  She gave everyone good morning hugs and kisses and only noticed me as she went to hug me and realized I technically shouldn't be there.  The surprise visit home was a huge success - the surprised looks on everyone's faces was well worth the long drive and lack of sleep. 

I napped a little bit, had another round of hugs when my older brother and oldest nephew arrived a bit later and had a great day hanging out.  Thanksgiving is always around birthdays - my mom's and my nephew's - so that was another impetus to go home.  My nephew's third birthday was that day, so we had a fun family dinner and party for him that night, complete with turkey cupcakes!  Hattie was happy to be home as well, enjoying being able to go outside without a leash and chaperone, and she lapped up the extra attention.  She was a phenomenal car traveler - just happy to be going somewhere with me.  We would stop every few hours for her to relieve herself and stretch, but she was always content just to sleep in her bed in the backseat. 

Saturday I went into town to visit friends and colleagues, making my usual rounds.  Lots more surprised faces and hugs.  All around, a perfect November weekend in NH.  L and I started back to DC early on Sunday, taking a slightly circuitous route through NJ so as to miss some of the traffic on I-95.  This allowed us to stop at my favorite Italian deli and bakery in Raritan to get sandwiches and cannolis!  We of course hit traffic on 95 from the MD border to 495, but it was doable.  We just turned on the Christmas music and reveled in our weekend.  L's family had been as surprised and happy as mine, and she made the family/friends rounds all weekend as well. 

So this year I of course thought about surprising the family again, but the logistics were a little more complicated.  Things like needing a ride home from the airport and having a bed for three weeks.  That sort of thing.  So I made plans early, got decent flights at a decent price, and secured almost three weeks off with only six days of work missed by stringing together lots of Saudi and U.S. holidays.  I got home late last Wednesday night and have been enjoying the cooler weather and family scene.  My mom and I went to Texas this past weekend (blog post on that coming), and now I'm looking forward to a busy couple of weeks with lots of family, friends, and food :-).  So for me, more often than not, traveling for Thanksgiving is well worth the expense and hassle.  Whether from 500 or 6,000 miles away.  (We'll see if I'm still saying that the 27th-28th as I travel back to Saudi with a bajillion other holiday travelers...)

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