We're back! (I bet you didn't realize we were gone! Well, we were. I just didn't want to announce that our house would be vacant to all of teh internets.)
We went to suburban Chicago for a family reunion and then on to Urbana so that I could give a seminar and meet with my former adviser and the rest of the scientific computing group, before heading home. We left on Thursday and got home yesterday.
When Vinny was very young, he didn't seem to mind riding in the car at all, but now he seems to take great issue with it. But after we figured out that he was much happier if one of us was sitting in the back with him, the drive went much more smoothly.
On the way up to Chicago, we stopped in at Jeff's parents' place for a few hours so that they could see Vinny. Then we went as far as Indianapolis before stopping for the night. We made it to the Chicago suburbs by the late afternoon, and introduced Vinny to the relatives who had already arrived at the hotel. That evening, I took Vinny with me to have dinner with a friend of mine who works at Argonne and her family. It was really fun to see them.
We went to a nearby Mexican restaurant, and Vinny was looking at my plate of food rather longingly, so I fed him some of my refried beans. I already knew from our friends Adam and Jody's house that he liked refried beans, but until that evening I did not realize the degree to which he loved them. He ate all my refried beans! Usually he gets to a point where he's had enough of whatever I'm feeding him, and turns his head to refuse, but every time he saw those frijoles coming towards him, he opened his mouth wide!
On Saturday we had family reunion activities all day, including an extended family reunion with hundreds of people I don't even know, all of whom were descended from some Scottish siblings, more than half of whom immigrated to the Naperville area, with the rest staying in Scotland. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very exciting reunion; in the past, they had people wearing kilts and playing bagpipes, or last time it was a cousin who plays the koto professionally in Japan, but there was nothing entertaining like that this time. So we left shortly after the panoramic picture was taken.
For dinner we went to an enormous Chinese buffet. It was an amazing place; they had more foods than I imagined possible, including fresh lychees that you could peel and eat! Lychees aren't too bad when canned, but fresh, they are just plain delicious. The flavor is a lot stronger. Anyhow, they also had sweet potatoes, of all things, so I mashed a piece of sweet potato up and fed it to Vinny, and he loved it almost as much as he loved the refried beans! And that is saying a lot, because he was crazy about those refried beans.
After dinner, there was a gathering of the descendants of my paternal grandfather and his siblings. This was interesting, because it meant we got to catch up on a lot of relatives we had last seen five years ago at the last reunion.
On Sunday, we went to a family reunion for the descendants of my paternal grandmother and her siblings. That reunion was organized by one of my uncles, and it was really interesting to meet all those people, some of whom I'd never met before. We also got copies of a book written by my grandmother about her mother and grandmother. I have read some of it, and it's very interesting. I look forward to getting more time to read it.
After that reunion, we caravaned with my dad and bonus mom, grandmother, and my aunt and uncle and their two kids to Urbana, where my aunt and uncle and family live. We had some pizza for dinner before Dad, Bonus Mom, and Grandma took off again for their final destination of the evening: Grandma's house.
It was so weird to be back in Urbana. I hadn't been back in nearly two years. Going to my aunt and uncle's house was very comfortable and comforting. Checking into a hotel instead of walking eight blocks home (as we used to do) was strange. Going back to my old department felt really good and quite comfortable, but things were very different and a lot of people I knew have (like me) graduated and moved on. My seminar was well-received, and a lot of interesting questions were asked and I had a few new things to think about. After the seminar, I went out to lunch with my old group, and I brought Vinny along. We went to a Mexican restaurant, so I was careful to order something that came with refried beans, which, once again, Vinny ate in their entirety.
After the day was over, Jeff picked Vinny and me up, and we went out to dinner with an old friend, to one of our favorite Chinese restaurants. The food was delicious as usual. It was a lot of fun to talk with that friend, and to play a game with him after dinner. We also took the time to drive past our old house. It looks really good. The current owner kept most of our landscaping, including the herb garden in the between the sidewalk and the road, our red groundcover roses, the star magnolia, and little bur oak tree (which is not so little anymore!), and added some of her own taste to it. I was very pleased to see the house so loved and well taken care of, but it still looked so familiar that I felt sort of surprised that we weren't turning in to the driveway.
There is a lot that I miss about Urbana. I didn't go into the library, because I knew that if I did, I would cry. I did ride the bus just like I used to (except for the fact that this time, I had to pay instead of just flashing my student ID), even remembering exactly where to get off to get where I needed to be. What I wouldn't give to be able to ride the bus to work every day!
On Tuesday, we began the long trip home. We decided to take the Western route, because we wanted to stop in the Amish country south of Urbana on the way. There was an Amish grocery store that we loved to go to when we lived there, where we would go to stock up on bulk spices. We really haven't found a place around here that sells the spices in bulk like that. So we took advantage of our proximity to stop in at that grocery store. We spent that night in Clarksville, Tennessee, and then drove the rest of the way home yesterday.
It is good to be home. When I'm here, it really does seem like home. Urbana has that pull on my heartstrings, and I miss it a lot. After all, I spent the majority of my adult life there. But I am getting used to it here and I do enjoy a lot of things about Tennessee. One thing I don't miss is the low income of a graduate student! Maybe someday I will get a chance to move back there, but in the meantime, this is home.