Saturday, July 16, 2011

7 Flights and 14 Days Later...

Earlier this week, I got home from a two-week trip that involved domestic and international travel, my immediate family, my boyfriend's extended family, multiple beaches, and a total of 7 flights.  I didn't announce the trip ahead of time, not liking to announce to the world at large when I will be out of town, where I will be traveling, etc., so I apologize for not posting in so long. 

I'm coming up on the 18 month mark of Brian's death tomorrow, and I'm astounded at the speed at which things have and are happening in my life.  The past three weeks have been no exception.

On Tuesday, June 28 my adventures began.  I cleaned out my car, finished packing up one very large suitcase and one soft-sided carry-on bag (filled with my laptop and books), and headed south.  I drove to San Antonio, to my boyfriend's apartment.  Things were a bit disheveled, as he was preparing to move into a new house.  Things were mostly stacked up in boxes, but his office area was untouched and he had to have some clothing and toiletry items out for our travels.  I had picked up a bottle of Vueve Cliquot, which has become the champagne of choice to celebrate a recent or impending move (that, and Rudy's BBQ, have become a moving tradition among some of my Iowa-to-Texas friends).  We got take-out food and split the bottle of champagne, then set out for our adventure.

We flew from San Antonio to Harlingen, a town in the far south of Texas, near the Mexican border and in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley -- "the Valley," to those who've lived there.  "Antonio" has lived in the Valley, he has family there still, and my grandparents winter there every year.  This time, we were heading to the Valley together for the first time, our first trip together being a Fourth of July (unofficial) family reunion.  We had an evening flight and arrived in time for a late dinner with some of Antonio's family members in Harlingen.  We spent the night with his cousin (who I had met before in Austin at an adventure 5K and then a girls' night out) and her husband, an attorney who I had not yet met.  We made a Target run after dinner to pick up some things for the beach and set in on making massive amounts of food for the week that was to come.  His cousin and aunt made pulled pork, sausage balls, spaghetti sauce, and what seemed like an absurd amount of Chex Mix -- until we polished off the last bag of the stuff halfway through the trip!

The next day, family members cam pouring into Harlingen by car and plane.  We went to the grocery store for the cold items (beer being high among them), then went to the airport in one borrowed vehicle and with the assistance of a family friend with a truck.  We needed two vehicles to pick up Antonio's immediate family -- his mom and four siblings -- at the airport and take them to South Padre Island, where the 20-plus family members, friends, and girlfriends would be hunkered down in three condos for the next week. 

I had never met Antonio's immediate family, as they live in Ohio.  I was a little nervous, but felt better that I at least had met many of his relatives in Texas.  It was much less overwhelming than it would have been if every face and name had been new to me.  I'd been practicing his mom's and sibling's names and birth order, and I wore a shirt that said "Ohio - the Great Potato State!" with the outline of Iowa, featuring cities from Iowa, Ohio, and the real potato state, Idaho.  (For some reason, I don't think a lot of people down here in Texas even see the joke; many genuinely don't know the difference between these three states.)  The shirt got a laugh, and I very quickly felt comfortable with Antonio's family.

We had a great time at South Padre Island.  We went crab hunting at night on the beach, swam in the ocean and the pool, went shopping, played putt-putt golf, got some sun (some of us tanned, some of us burned), and the guys went (real) golfing and fishing.  I got up early and went for a run on the beach the morning that Antonio was golfing with some cousins and an uncle.  We went to a microbrew for beers and pizza, and caught some live music at a dance club on the gulf side of the island, which was a short walk from our beachfront condo on the ocean side.

I had been nervous about how Antonio's family would react to my past, my situation, my....widowness.  I made sure that he talked to his mom and siblings ahead of time about my history so that no one would be caught off guard or feel awkward when it came up in conversation (and it always does - I don't hold back about sharing my story because it is my life, and it got me to where I am now).  His mom already knew, and I wasn't concerned about that -- any adult should able to deal with such a thing coming up in conversation.  I was more worried about his siblings, who range in age from 12 to 22.  Hearing that I had been married before and that my husband had died suddenly might have been a lot to throw at them, and I wanted them to have some time to absorb this before they met me, in part so that my time with them could be more about who I am now and not what has happened to me.

It turned out all my fears were for naught.  Everyone was so kind and warm to me, and I felt comfortable talking about Brian just as I would with my own family or friends, just as I do in my daily life.  Like Brian, Antonio's brothers are redheads.  I shared the story of how he got sunburned on the first day of our honeymoon by thinking he was fine with only one application of sunscreen because it was SPF 50 and waterproof (turns out reapplication is pretty important too).  There were other references here and there to Brian, and I never felt that anyone was uncomfortable about this, or that they took it to mean I love Antonio any less.  I even had a couple of serious conversations about life and loss with Antonio's mom and one of his cousins, who was experiencing his first family vacation without his sister, who had been killed in a car accident last winter.  As someone who knows what it's like to grieve for someone very near to you, I had a special empathy for him, so I took him aside one night to tell him that and let him know I was thinking about him.  I can't speak to anyone else's emotions, but I know what it's like to be a family gathering, enjoying yourself but feeling incomplete, your smile just not as big as normal, being more keenly aware of his or her absence in a group where he or she belonged and should have been with you.  I don't always get brave enough to approach someone I've just met to say, "I understand your pain, and I empathize."  I'm glad I did, though.  He seemed relieved to have someone acknowledge his pain and his sister's absence, and he seemed a little lighter after that conversation.

I had to leave Antonio's family trip a bit early -- on July 3, so I didn't get to spend Independence Day with everyone.  Don't feel too sorry for me, though -- I simply went from one vacation to another, this time with my family.  On the 3rd, Antonio, his mom and his cousin drove me the hour or so from South Padre Island back to Harlingen, where I boarded a plane for my second and third flights (Houston, then O'Hare).  Once I landed in Chicago, I met up with my parents and sister in a hotel next to the airport.  We flew out the next morning -- on a very early flight, I might add! -- to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  We spent a week at an all-inclusive resort there (the Iberostar Bavaro) to celebrate my dad's 50th birthday, which was in June.  It was an amazing trip!

The beach at the resort was beautiful - perhaps the best I've seen in my life.  Soft, white sand led up to clear turquoise waters.  It truly was incredible.  We snorkeled, ate, drank beach-y drinks like Coco Locos and Blue Hawaiis, swam, shot air rifles, played bingo, made new friends from around the world, read, napped, sunbathed, and I even won a certificate and a tee shirt after winning a beer drinking contest I got roped into at the pool!  We took two excursion away from the resort, which was really neat for me to see more of the countryside (my family has been to the D.R. three times before, while this was my first trip).  The first trip was an Outback Safari excursion that took us to local one-room schoolhouse, a house in the mountains, and a ranch where we ate lunch and got to see iguanas, crocodiles, and a man selling hand-rolled cigars.  At the house, we saw how local families live and got to see the father show us the process for making coffee and cocoa.  It was all really neat.  Our second excursion was a zipline tour, which I was really excited about because I never imagined I'd see my parents go ziplining!  We had a lot of fun doing that, and I'm proud of how brave my normally-timid mom was about it all.

My family on our last day in Punta Cana
At the resort, my family would spend most of our time at or near the beach bar, particularly after we befriended several couples and formed a sort of worldwide resort gang.  We met a couple from England, a couple from Germany, and a couple from Switzerland who had their 13-year-old son with them.  Despite a few language stumbling blocks, we were all able to speak enough common English to make fast friends, and we spent a great deal of our vacation with this crew.  The couples were all around my parents' ages, and I especially bonded with the English couple because she had been widowed relatively recently (five years ago) and was traveling with her new partner, a man she had been with for three years.  She and I discussed the fact that we still had good days and bad days (her birthday had been a recent bad day for her), but that we could still enjoy life and love again.  We both noted how lucky we were to have men who could love us and support us through the hard times, and what a special person that requires.  We all exchanged e-mail addresses and I wouldn't be surprised to see one or more of these people again.  In fact, they were all staying much longer than we (it seems most Europeans we met had two-week "holidays") and they all came up to the lobby to see us off.  As our bus drove away, a couple of those staying behind were dabbing tears away.  My dad had gotten a little choked up himself while toasting our last dinner together the night before.

After our resort time was up, we all flew back to O'Hare (flight #5 for me).  We landed late in the evening, then retrieved my parents' minivan and headed west toward Iowa.  We hit the Quad Cities around 12:30 a.m., which was my stop.  My parents and sister got me settled in to a hotel room and went about the last hour of their trip home.  I slept a few hours in a not-too-nice hotel room, then got up and headed to the Moline airport for the last leg of my trip -- Moline to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Austin.

You would think my rambling post is coming to an end and that there couldn't be much more to say about the flight, wouldn't you?  Standard, mid-week air travel, right?  Well, the first leg was uneventful, but the second leg was very exciting!  Sitting on my plane, riding first class was none other than Matthew McConaughey!  He was traveling with his two children and a woman who was probably either his mother-in-law or his nanny.  He was very nice, and even signed an autograph for me on a picture of him that happened to be in Sky magazine that month, promoting The Lincoln Lawyer.  I wasn't going to ask for his autograph on the plane -- I thought I'd take the magazine and see if I saw him in the airport at luggage claim -- but the couple next to me encouraged me to go for it!  He was sitting right next to the front lavatory, and people from coach were going up to use that one when the beverage cart was blocking the back ones.  Once a teenage boy walked up and went into the front one, the couple said, "Now's your chance!  Go up and just get his autograph while you're standing there waiting for the bathroom!"  Well, I really did have to go I thought, what the heck?  He was really nice and asked my name so he could personalize it.  Later, when I got off the plane, he and his children were waiting off to side (probably for a stroller that got checked or something) and when I walked by, he said (in his deep southern drawl), "Bye, now!"  I was melting! 

From there, it was off to baggage claim, where I got to stand near Matthew for another 15-20 minutes (our bags took a long time).  I hardly looked at him, though, once Antonio arrived with flowers.  My first "flowers at the airport" pickup - something I've hoped for all my life!  When I got the car, a stuffed monkey was waiting for me -- funny, because one of his souvenirs was a picture of me at the resort, holding a monkey (he didn't know that ahead of time)! 

Antonio picked me up at the Austin airport in my car, which he'd driven up that day for a conference.  While I was in Dominican Republic, he finished up his own family trip, then came back to San Antonio and started the moving process -- from his one bedroom, one bathroom apartment to his three bedroom, two bathroom house that I'm writing from now.  He'd used my SUV for the move (as well having the classic "friend with a truck"), which was now nearly complete.  He and his cousin, who'd driven up from the Valley, were in Austin for three days for a work event, which started before I was even back in town.  I spent a couple days in Austin doing laundry and unpacking, as well as managing to see a few friends one evening.  Then, we both headed down to San Antonio to finish up the move.  We've spent the last two days cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and decorating.  There is still a little ways to go, but it looks great so far!  Antonio's aunt and two cousins even had breakfast here the other morning, right after his aunt had to put down her beloved dog Conan (a dog who got to spend one of his last weeks alive at South Padre Island).

Speaking of beloved pets, I need to go check on Mittons.  Until next time (which won't be so long)!


  1. nice on 3 fronts:
    1) i have the same ohio shirt
    2) i was in punta cana 3 years ago - AWESOME place
    3) i like dazed & confused

  2. shut the front door! Matthew McCong-however you spell it! he's, well you know, he's awesome - bongo drums and all. ;)