des moines

I'd scheduled my trip to Des Moines such that I gave notice to my old job, worked the last two weeks, got on a plane (or 3), spent a whirlwind 8 days at home, got another plane, and started my new job the next day.  Which was supposed to be yesterday.  Now I don't have a concrete start date and am quickly running out of things to do, especially with M. doing the breakfast dishes and making my bed (I love her), so I figured I'd elaborate on my trip to Des Moines.  Maybe I'll even start blogging about R&R. 

You know you're homesick when you're admiring the whitewashed buildings against the brilliant blue sea in Santorini and thinking about Des Moines.  Emphasis on sick.  So with the promise of new, more lucrative employment, over the last few days of R&R in July (yes, over dinner at some darling outdoor cafe in Rome.  I did emphasize sick.), Joey and I discussed a trip to Des Moines.  Together.  Until we returned to Abuja and started pricing airfare.  Three thousand dollars a ticket.  Yep.  Three thousand dollars.  When my sister came to visit she paid half that.  And guess what?  Roundtrip prices from the US to Abuja are always half that of those from Abuja to the US.  Why?  Supply and demand.  What a bunch of shit. 

Naturally, Joey and I reeled at those prices and said nevermind to our trip to Des Moines.  But I still wanted to go home.  So badly.  And with time off in a new job uncertain and other trips already booked (a word of advice to new people moving abroad: maybe in month 1 you think you won't want to go home and you should use your time off to explore the world.  By month 7 you will not feel the same way.  Plan the trip home.  That's what it's there for.), this was the only time I could go.  And then Joey was offered a training in DC in the middle of September.  Which meant he got a ticket to the US.  So we bit the bullet and bought my ticket to Des Moines.  We ended up spending the same amount we'd planned.  Only one of us got to go to Des Moines and the other one gets to go to Washington.  And not at the same time.  But he gets Five Guys and Ben's Chili Bowl and I can assure you my fat kid husband with a ridiculously unfair metabolism is cool with that.

I thought it'd be fun to surprise my parents.  It'd been eight months since we'd seen each other, and they weren't expecting to see me until early 2012.  So, with some careful scheming between my sisters, our Aunt Missy, we arranged to surprise Mom and Dad at their friends' house.  So after 30 long hours traveling (that's a hard journey to make alone.  Especially because husbands are not only fun to talk to, but they make great airplane seat extensions too), Mal and Lizz picked me up at the airport, from where we met Aunt Missy and surprised Mom and Dad at their friends' house.  Lizz recorded their reactions on Mallory's phone; here's the link:   http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=614267692534 I wish I was tech savvy enough to just post the video but unfortunately I'm not.  Hopefully it works even if you're not friends with Mallory on Facebook.  Anyway, Mom and Dad were beyond surprised and a few tears were shed by all.  Their friends, Ann and Mark, cooked the perfect first-meal-in-America-in-eight-months anyone could ask for: cheeseburgers with fresh jalapenos, Iowa sweet corn and Costco cake.  After a lovely dinner, the whole Soda family piled in Mallory's new convertible and Mom and Dad promptly got shit on by a flock of geese flying above.  Mallory and Lizz and I thought it was hilarious....I digress.  Mom and Dad put clean sheets on my old bed and I slept like a baby.  It felt amazing.

The next morning Mallory, Mom and Dad and I drove through a gorgeous Iowa thunderstorm to Council Bluffs for a violet-themed birthday party.  This time Mom and Dad got to partake in the surprise as I hugged my grandparents.  When my grammy saw me she reacted exactly the same way as my dad: her face went completely blank, then confused, shocked, and finally into a huge smile.  What a fun surprise.  I spent the afternoon catching up with my mom's side of the family; I can't believe how much my cousins' kids have grown.  After a tour of my cousin Tiffany's beautiful new home, we headed back to Des Moines for a delicious spaghetti dinner with my dad's side of the family.  Since Mallory had already posted the video of my parents' surprise on Facebook I didn't get to surprise my other grandma, but it was still great to see everybody.  More disbelief at how big and smart my cousins' kids have become as I met the newest member of the family.  Then it was back home to my comfy old bed.

Mallory and I spent the whole next day together.  Hot yoga followed by mani/pedis, then some shopping at my favorite department store and then more shopping and lunch downtown Des Moines.  That night my Uncle Tom treated us to a fabulous dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Des Moines. 

Tuesday I had lunch with my friend Allison and her beautiful baby girl, Molly, and then spent an hour wandering in childlike amazement at the grocery store while I happily sipped my Starbucks that I'd purchased there.  Though I'm loathe to admit it, God, how I'd missed the suburbs.  Somehow I managed to spend $200 on protein powder and candy.  Then my sisters and cousins and I spent the night at the bar.  It was a blast, which is a good thing since I spent the whole next day paying for it.

From left: Lizz, me, Mal, P and Maria.  Yes, Maria and I are each holding two beers.  It was two-fers night.  Ouch.
Wednesday I was up early for coffee with my friend, Lee, where I ran into my lunch date, Kate.  Only in Des Moines!  Kate and I caught up a few hours later over sushi.  I think we could have talked for days.  Dinner that night was low-key at home with the whole family; the only person missing was Joey.  We laughed so hard Mallory snarfed her milk. 

Thursday Lizz and I spent a good two hours at Target.  She was very patient with my need to marvel up and down every aisle at a snail's pace, so afterward I treated her to Mexican for lunch.  My mom met us and she took me to Trader Joe's, where I bought more candy and some cheese, and then to the running store for new shoes.  Thursday night my friend Lauren took me out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and then to see her new photography studio.  It was really inspiring to see how far she's come with what was once a hobby!

Friday Mom and I explored Costco and then since we had some extra time but food in the car, she was patient enough to wait in the car while I ran in Old Navy and DSW.  Then she dropped me off at the dentist, went home, unloaded the food, and came back to pick me up.  I bet it really made her miss the good old days of playing chauffeur to three busy girls.  That night Dad's whole family came over for pizza for his birthday.  I'm so glad we all got a chance to see each other again before I left.

Saturday I sat around and did nothing all day.  I was exhausted and although my original flight was scheduled to leave the next day, my best friend was scheduled to come to town Monday, and I'd hoped to be able to leave Tuesday instead.  So I didn't run any of my remaining errands under the assumption I had an extra day.  Then Saturday night we enjoyed dinner with Mom's family again.

Sunday morning my dear husband woke me up bright and early at 6 am to tell me he couldn't change my flight.  I knew I should have bought the meat sooner!  So quickly I took a shower and drove to the grocery store, where I filled a cart with steaks and sour cream and ricotta cheese.  At the check-out I realized I had forgotten my credit card (why do I always do that?), so I had to drive back home, find the card, drive back to the store and get my food.  I stuffed everything in the freezer and went to church with my dad. 

After Mass, Dad and I ran the last of my errands, while I returned things to Target and Old Navy (it's amazing what you will buy when you haven't been there in 8 months) and found an anniversary gift for Joey.  Then I packed my suitcase, we stuffed the half-frozen meat in a cooler and headed to the airport.

The trip was a total whirlwind and wiped me out, but it was so worth it.  I was in such a better mood on the way back I only bitched at one person in line to the plane to Abuja (if I can feel your breath on my neck, I'm going to let you know I need my personal space).  Somehow the meat arrived still cold and I couldn't have been happier to see my smiling husband, despite his buzzed head (buzzed as soon as he dropped me off at the airport a week earlier).  M. was delighted with the pink Drake tee shirt I brought for her and cried when I gave her little girl some sidewalk chalk, a jump rope, crayons and Sponge Bob coloring book.  She and Joey have been quickly picking off the giant tub of jelly beans from Costco over the last two days.  I'm enjoying temporary unemployment and quality time with the boys.  And tonight I'll be enjoying some thick Iowa ribeyes for dinner.

i am updating my blog.

The 30-hour trip back to Abuja wasn't nearly as exhausting as the 30- hour trip to Des Moines.  Maybe it was the margarita in the Minneapolis airport that cost as much as my salad, a better selection of movies on the plane or fun playing with my new Nook reader.  I know having a window seat and the accompanying aisle seat on the flight to Abuja made a difference.  But I think what really made the trip back to Abuja more palatable was how calm, centered and happy I felt after seeing all of my friends and family back home.  I can't explain it, but for some reason just being home and sitting on the couch next to my dad; having a real, face-to-face conversation with my mom; enjoying manis and pedis with Mallory and wandering Target with Lizz; going out for drinks with my cousins and playing with their beautiful kids (not in that order); and all the wonderful lunches and dinners with friends and family in between made me feel so much stronger.  It felt incredible to take hot yoga classes and run in the crisp, clean, Iowa air.  I ate cheeseburgers and sweet corn and pasta and sushi and key lime cheesecake.  And I got to see and hug and talk to almost all of the most important people in my life, and for some reason, now I feel like I can handle living here a little bit easier.  Maybe it's the freezer packed with Iowa beef I smuggled in my suitcase.  But I think it's all the love and support that truly only family can provide, even from 5,000 miles away.