The Holidays in New England

By October of 2017 our little family had been out of the country for more than 16 months, and we had a ball traveling to places like France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, the U.A.E., Thailand, Cambodia, and others.

When we first set out, being on the road for over a year seemed intimidating.  Impossible.  It loomed so large that envisioning it without a bit of panic was difficult.

We hit the road and months passed both slowly and in a blur.  Before we knew it we had been on the road for almost six months.  There were some material things we missed about home (mostly food, which says a lot about us, particularly me):  steak (we were never able to find a steak anywhere near as good as home – even in Ireland, where the meat is mouthwateringly good), BBQ (although there was surprisingly good American BBQ in Hanoi), and donuts.

Occasionally we would miss being able to get whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it.  Our brand of dental floss in Vietnam.  Booze in Dubai.  Lemons in Mexico.

We slowly became accustomed to not having much on the road, and learning to accept the little we did have in out-of-the-way places like Hoi An, Vietnam, was one of the valuable lessons we learned from nomadic life.

What we missed most, of course, were our family and friends.  We got small doses by Skyping and staying in touch via social media, and by getting the occasional visits from loved ones overseas.  But nothing replaces a good old-fashioned hug.

We landed in Mexico in September with 2 months to go before getting back to the States, and I found myself thinking about what we were going to do in our short time in New England and Georgia.  There was, of course, lots and lots of time with family and friends on the schedule, and we had doctor and dentist appointments galore, credit cards to renew before we left the country again, and a host of other mind-numbing administrative tasks to do.

But not once did I say to myself, “Man, I am so excited to [eat this, buy that]!”  After nearly a year and a half on the road there wasn’t anything I was eager to get at home, because I wasn’t missing anything material.

Our little Lego Batman trick-or-treating with friends
B with his haul, which he eagerly traded the next morning for Larabars.  I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to pull that one off.
The Upper East Side, from a quick trip into the city to visit with my business partners
We arrived in Connecticut just in time to see the leaves changing
Candlewood Lake on a brisk November morning
Braeden and his friend Elie at a CrossFit competition

So one chilly evening in late October we landed in Hartford, CT, got off the plane, breezed through Immigration (Yay, we’re residents!), and found ourselves waiting by the luggage carousel.  It felt weird to not care much about being back in the States.  We were excited as hell to see our family and friends, but there wasn’t anything in particular I wanted to have back from our “old life”.  I didn’t want or need anything.  The road had stripped from me the desire to have “stuff” and all that was left behind was joy of experiencing life and being with people.

I know.  It’s corny, but I’m sticking by it.

Goofing around with his buds
Waiting for Santa to arrive at Mystic River Park
Santa cruising in on his tugboat!

We had six weeks total planned in New England:  3 in the Brookfield area, 1 in Rocky Hill, 1 in Mystic, and 1 in the Boston area.  It was a whirlwind of hugs, catching up, dentist appointments, and shuttling from place to place.  We honestly haven’t done that much moving around since Cambodia, and it felt like one minute we were putting our backpacks down and the next shouldering them again to leave.

Our wheels for our New England leg, a glistening white Jeep Wrangler, were provided by our good friend John from New Fairfield, totally free of charge.  John’s an old friend who runs a fantastic service station in Somers, NY, and he’s always looked out for us.  It goes without saying that not having to rent a car for six weeks was a huge help.  THANK YOU JOHN!

For our three weeks in Brookfield we stayed with friends Mikki and Kevin, then Melissa and Kirk, at their respective houses.  Both couples have two children each around Braeden’s age, so the boy was absolutely thrilled to wake up and hang around friends all day.  THANK YOU MIKKI, KEVIN, MELISSA, AND KIRK!

We arrived in town just before Halloween, and Juliann had shipped Braeden’s chosen costume, Lego Batman, ahead of us so it was ready for trick-or-treating.  We had missed Halloween the previous year in Mauritius, so the boy was delighted to be able to spend the evening knocking on doors with friends, collecting candy and having a few laughs.

We had lived in the Brookfield area before selling everything and becoming nomads, so we still had our doctors and dentists there, and we got caught up on our checkups while in town.

The manifold doctor appointments all went smoothly.  Our dentist, however, advised that Juliann and I both get new crowns to the tune of $1,800 each.  We politely declined, as we’ll be in Costa Rica shortly and can get reportedly great dental care there for about a third of the cost.  It might be a smart decision, or it might come back to bite us on the ass.  We’ll keep you posted.

I also ordered replacement credit and debit cards, as our old ones were expiring in March of 2018, when we’ll be overseas.

We visited with friends, having lunch here, grabbing a coffee there, and I returned to my old home CrossFit 203 to train for a few weeks alongside more old friends.  I also stopped by my old gym CrossFit Hook’d, now owned by my former head coach Ryan, caught up with him and gave him a huge hug.

I couldn’t leave town without training with old friends (and absolute beasts) Alexis and David over at CrossFit RedZone in Newtown, so I stopped by there as well for a couple of sessions.  I got my ass kicked all over the place for a few weeks.  It was awesome.

I managed too to get into New York City a couple of times:  once to stop by my business’s new office space (which I hadn’t yet seen) to say hello to my partners and meet all the staff while I was traveling, and once to spend some time with an old and dear friend, Ryan, and throw some weight around with him at CrossFit Solace.

The Mystic River looking north from the drawbridge
Hanging with a pal on the porch of one of the only remaining original stores in the Mystic Village, the Toy Soldier
Admiring the Belugas at the Mystic Aquarium

Three weeks flew by in a flash, and we were off to Rocky Hill, CT, to spend Thanksgiving with Juliann’s cousin and my good friend Scott and his two daughters.  Scott, by the way, was gracious enough to pick us up at the airport, he is currently serving as our PO Box, and he cheerfully dealt with a painting we had shipped from Hanoi earlier this year, so we owe him big time.  THANK YOU SCOTT!

Scott and I managed to get in a couple of training sessions at a local gym, CrossFit Halo, and we spent a fair amount of time just hanging around the house goofing off while Braeden worked on Legos with the girls.

Thanksgiving this year was at the home of one of Juliann’s cousins in Cold Spring, NY, and it was fun to see so many of her family members in one place.  The taste of good turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy again (last year’s dinner at Ruth’s Chris Dubai didn’t cut it) was like a plate full of donuts to Homer Simpson – goddamned scrumptious.

Next we crammed our belongings into the Jeep and headed to Mystic, one of our favorite New England villages.  We moved a lot when I was a kid, but my family spent more time in the Mystic area than anywhere else, so returning to Mystic always feels like returning home.

Mystic was not only a great place to relax for a week, but it was close to my mother, my sister Jennifer, and her husband Josh.  They all visited us on the road (in Mexico and Ireland, respectively) so thankfully it hadn’t been a year and a half since we’d seen them last.

Braeden was very eager to hang out with his Uncle Josh, as the latter had let the boy know that there was a rather large Millenium Falcon Lego set at his house that they could work on together.

We spent plenty of time hanging out with family that week, and we also enjoyed some touristy stuff that we don’t typically do when we visit Mystic:  we hit the Aquarium to chill with the Belugas, strolled through the Mystic Village (where my father had a store in the 70’s and 80’s), wandered around Main St. downtown, toured the USS Nautilus at the Sub Base, and explored the Seaport for a few hours.

Checking out the SS X-1, the US Navy’s only midget submarine, at the Submarine Force Museum. The Navy used the sub from 1955-1973 to research harbor defenses against smaller submarines.
Aboard the Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. The Nautilus, and the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT, are great attractions for kids and adults and are both free!
Photo op with the Nautilus. Minutes later a sub returning home from a six-month patrol cruised past, crew on deck, to the cheers of family and friends on shore.
Stopping by the Seaport to check out all the ships
Some of the beautifully restored vessels on display at the Seaport
The Toy Boat shop was closed, but the boy wanted a picture in front of it anyway
Seaport Light on the Mystic River
Resting his dogs after a morning of hoofing it around the Seaport
Stopping by the Kids’ Center at the Seaport, where they had lessons on learning how to draw clouds, waves, and boats.  Jackpot!

We also had a chance to greet Santa as he arrived in Downtown Mystic by tugboat, and later that evening we took a few bottles of wine across the street from our apartment with Auntie and Uncle and watched the Lighted Boat Parade glide down the river.

At the end of the week we hugged our family goodbye and headed north to the Boston area for the final leg of our New England tour.  We spent 3 nights at the home of our friend, Nicole, with whom Juliann used to work at a legal firm in Boston when we first met in 2001.  THANK YOU NICOLE!  :^)

Nicole’s home is in Dorchester right around the corner from the bustling Lower Mills neighborhood, so we enjoyed going out for brisk walks (it had been a while since we experienced temps in the 30’s…brrrr!) and sampling some excellent local restaurants.  Nicole has two daughters, 15 and 10, and one night we went to a local community center to take in a concert in which the younger girl was participating.  She plays the violin (really well…I was envious), and she and her classmates teamed up with three local musicians to play some amazing music.

Yet again we tossed everything in the Jeep and headed into the city for a quick stop at the Museum of Science.  When I was living in Boston from ’89-’01 my family – including my two younger brothers Matthew and Scott – used to visit me in Boston.   We would go to the museum as often as we could, and I have fond memories of being there with them while they ran around like maniacs, mashing buttons and climbing all over everything.

So we were delighted to be able to bring Braeden there.  We had only a couple of hours and it turned out to not be nearly enough time.  Braeden was in thrall at just about every exhibit (except for the giant Van der Graaf generator in the Hall of Electricity, which features huge – and loud – bolts of lightning…the boy’s not a fan of loud noises unless he’s making them) and we went from one to the next, soaking it all up.

We grabbed some lunch at the cafe, swung by the dinosaur exhibit to say hello to the T-Rex and Triceratops displays, and then pointed the Jeep south to Scituate, where we had a small seaside cottage waiting for us.

Looking across the marsh by the Neponset River
Walking along the Neponset River trail with Mom and friend Nicole
Experimenting with centrifugal force at the Museum of Science
The Museum of Science’s T-Rex is ready for the holiday season
Looking north from Cedar Point in Scituate
Tackling a nearby playground with Nana
This kid loves swings of all kinds
At Scituate Light, from our session with cousin Jack. Photo by Jack Foley Photography.

Juliann grew up in Hanover, MA, and she has always loved Scituate, so we decided to stay there for the last few days of our New England tour.  Her mother (Nana) still lives in Hanover so it was easy for her to visit with us during our stay.

The cottage was a little scruffy and on the small side, but it was just a few doors down from Scituate Light with great views of the harbor.  Nana stayed with us the first night, and we were able to spend tons of time with her over the next few days doing a little Christmas shopping at Derby Street in Hingham (where Juliann treated herself to a new iPhone 8 Plus), enjoying some lunch at the Tinker’s Son in Norwell, and getting in a quick photo shoot with cousin Jack at Scituate Light.

The time flew, of course, and before we knew it we had to pack the Jeep one final time and head back to Connecticut.  We made a quick stop at our storage unit to drop off some heavy winter gear and pick up our warmer weather stuff.  Then we headed back to Brookfield to spend one last night with our friends Kevin and Mikki and enjoyed a visit with some other very good friends Monica and Nuno.  We woke the next morning to drive to JFK and catch our flight to Savannah, GA.

[Side note:  Hey Delta, your JFK terminal 2 has been a shitshow and seemingly under construction for years now.  Get off your asses and fix it, please.]

To all our family and friends in New England:  we had so much fun spending time with you, and we were so glad we could hang out for a while.  We love you all and miss you already, and we can’t wait to see you again soon!

Next:  Savannah!

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