Family visits from Wisconsin; a sequel

Mel’s parents came to visit us a few weeks back (link) and this past week was my parents turn to visit.  Before I write about that, just some thoughts about living away from family.  Appleton, Wisconsin is my home and I expect that, to some extent, it always will be.  Appleton is where most of my family and friends live, where I went to high school, where I joined the Army and served my first enlistment, where I got my first real job, where I married the love of my life, and where my daughter was born. 

If I shared that timeline with most people, they would assume that I’ve never left my hometown (and there isn’t anything wrong with that!).  Truth is that in between many of those meaningful life milestones I was living far from Appleton.  Sandwiched among those events were a military deployment, a three year stay in China, and four or so years in southern Pennsylvania with Mel.  I’m no stranger to spending holidays far from family or missing out on the most beloved traditions of home (Friday fish fry — check out the Milwaukee Record where an old friend who hasn’t missed one since 2013 writes about it, brandy old fashioneds, squeaky cheese curds, locally made bratwurst to name a few…). 

Image source: The Food Network (What to Eat in Wisconsin: Iconic Eats from America’s Dairyland). Why does everyone describe home in terms of food and drink?
Some quick reflections on home

I’ve learned over the years that the homesickness from missing those things doesn’t go away, but you find ways to compensate and fill the space with new traditions in new places with new people.  This is one of the keys, as I’ve learned through experience and have validated through others, of thriving far from home.  Thinking about raising Naomi in a different country we often think about the concept of home. It’s been documented many places that third culture kids should remain connected to their home culture.  For Mel and me, Appleton is always going to be home, but for Naomi it will be a place where her grandparents live, a place we visit on vacation and where we spend a few weeks in between moves from one country to the next. 

And now here’s the real blessing of having parents come to visit – they bring home to you!  Sure its awesome to spend time with people you love, but I’d argue that the other greatest benefit of having family visit is the opportunity to feel like home. You can get right back into feeling at home through conversations about what’s going on back home, sharing stories of people and places of the past, eating and drinking familiar food, and by simply being with each other.  I’d argue that nobody can bring this feeling and emotion in quite the same way your parents can.

So with that, here’s a bit about my parents’ visit this past week!  We live about a 12-minute drive to Reagan so pick up was quick. We shared a some take and bake pizzas from Aldi and spent the evening catching up and talking about the upcoming week’s itinerary.  My parents visited several times while we were living in Pennsylvania and we made it to DC a few times.  They’ve been to most of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, have seen the monuments several times, and have been around the tidal basin a time or two. 

This time they wanted to do and see something new.  Their list included visits to the Library of Congress, the Washington National Cathedral, Mount Vernon, the Air and Space Museum, and the USMC War Memorial. (my Dad also had a requirement where he said, and I quote, “MUST go to a seafood place at least once🍤🦀🦞🦐🦑”) 

An ambitious list, but very doable.  The thing is the poor weather over the weekend and my need to be in class from 9-4 each day turned this seemingly doable bucket list into a complicated puzzle to solve.  We were anticipating rain, snow, cold weather and high winds for the next day.  The Air and Space Museum on the National Mall had JUST reopened that day for about one month since it had been closed for renovations.  Since we had been there before, we opted for the Air and Space Museum’s annex at Dulles, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, for our main attraction for the next morning.

The Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center

If you’ve never been to the Udvar-Hazy Center before, you absolutely must go.  This place was awesome.  Here are some of the main attractions: Space Shuttle Discovery, the Enola Gay, Gemini 7, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and an Air France Concorde.  This is a 17-acre facility that has air and spacecraft from floor to ceiling.  Naomi has been very interested in planes since we’ve moved here so she was no doubt excited to see so many airplanes for about the first three minutes.  After that, she decided that she was going to run around the hangar and climb all the steps otherwise she was going to get stiff as a board and scream.  Mel and I tag-teamed the toddler chase detail while the rest of us enjoyed the museum and displays.  Any of the Smithsonian museums could easily be a several day affair to take everything in.  We opted for the quick window tour of the whole place and were finished after about two hours. 

The National Gallery of Art

That afternoon my parents and I braved the wind and cold and made our way to the National Gallery of Art.  Alright, so it wasn’t on their bucket list but neither had been there before.  This place is one of my favorites and was my strong recommendation.  When Mel and I used to live in Pennsylvania, I’d take day trips down to DC by myself when Mel was working, get some dumplings in Chinatown and then spend several hours in the NGA. 

If you’ve never been there before, here is a quick summary of the Gallery.  It ranks along MOMA and the Met as a top art gallery in the North America, it has the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas, has more than 75,000 prints, attracts more than 700,000 people annually, and has never charged admission in its 85 years.  It has paintings from 13th Century Italy all the way through 20th Century America.  You could easily get lost in the connecting rooms and corridors of this gallery.  While this attraction wasn’t on my parents’ list, everyone is glad we braved the wind and cold for a trip to the NGA.  It helped that Mel had prepared an awesome chili dinner for us once we returned to our apartment.  When we were grocery shopping for the weekend, it was in the mid 70s and buying ingredients for chili didn’t seem quite right at the time, but all of us were glad that we did!

The weather the next day was going to be comparatively nicer with clear skies, less wind and temperatures in the 40s.  We all agreed that our time would be best spent enjoying one of Northern Virginia’s greatest treasures: wine.  Trying to find a winery that offered a space to sit indoors, no cover charge, within close travel distance of DC, and kid friendly was very difficult.  We settled on Stone Tower winery in Leesburg, Virginia.  (I’ll post on that later!). We finished the evening getting our first of two seafood dinners at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place in Georgetown (and I’ll post on that later, too!).  Naomi did very good the entire day despite feeling a bit under the weather and having to spend nearly the whole day away from home with no nap.  The meal was nice and it was a very fitting setting for what would turn out to be our last meal out together with all five of us.

For me, class started up again Monday morning.  I won’t give a full itinerary for the rest of their visit because at the end of the day, that’s not what was most important.  They did end up making it to the National Cathedral, Mount Vernon, and the USMC War Memorial but unfortunately had to miss out on the Library of Congress since there weren’t any available tickets.  Who know that the Library of Congress would be such an in demand tourist spot?  They were also able to sneak in a trip to Old Towne Alexandria, the National Mall and monuments.

It was awesome having a little piece of home come visit us here in Arlington.  It wasn’t easy to say goodbye again, but I’m very thankful they were able to visit and we are making it a point to stay connected to home.  Staying connected to home is important for Mel and I. Its a strategy to combat homesickness and the inevitable sadness that comes with being away for holidays and special events. It is equally important for Naomi to see that family means the world to us, that we love our hometown, and to remind her that although she will be a third culture kid, she will always be a cheesehead.  If I have any say in the matter, she will come to love fish frys, Wisconsin sports, supper clubs, will put ranch on everything and will be saying things like “ope, let me sneak right past ya real quick once” and “ya know, the cold wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the gosh darn wind.”

1 thought on “Family visits from Wisconsin; a sequel”

  1. Love this so much Joel, and it brings a smile to know how you look at it. It’s so important to us that your family – you, Mel, Naomi and however many more siblings that may or may not come along know how important you are to us. We love that the upbringing and the values and the memories of living here will stay with you and that Wisconsin and the Fox River Valley are in your DNA. What matters more is our next home, not the one that’s here, and as long as you keep your eyes on that, wherever you go, we know that we’ll all be together again. We absolutely cherish all the time that we get with you guys, and our prayers, our hearts, and our love will be with you always.

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