Actually, I can't say much about what happened while I was away from Illinois, because I took a break from the world, in the Western North Carolina mountains, without the internet, the news, dependable phone service and most foreknowledge about anything affecting daily life, like the weather. My husband said I guess we'll have to look out the window. Lucky for us there was a lot to see.
We drove 12 hours each way, the kids oddly disengaged in their little i-worlds, headsets blaring while they slept the lion's share of the journey each way. I seem to recall sleeping my way through most of the states east of the Mississippi on our family trips. For a few nervous hundred miles or so, our Student Driver daughter with 15 hours behind the wheel successfully propelled us down the highway at 70 miles an hour while I tried to go to a happy place in my head and hope for luck.
We were lucky, all around.
We left a half day earlier than we planned and got in just ahead of a winter storm that would have made the trip a nightmare. But we were hunkered down by the time the rain turned to snow, grateful to be back in the hills for some family down time.
While we were away from North Carolina, a screech owl decided to make our doorway his home. Owls are pretty messy house guests, especially since they barf up the pieces that don't digest. Apparently this one didn't mind the tinsel that was supposed to scare him away. Fortunately our very interested dog and a lot of flash photography got him to move along to somewhere less civilized.
We spent a lot of time lounging in front of the fireplace, napping and trying not to obsess on the spotty cell service, internet withdrawal and mere basic cable. We roughed it. We played dominoes, read books and competed in hilarious rounds of Balderdash. The kids are pretty good bullshitters, so it was a lot of fun. We ate well. Very well. We hiked with the dog, even in the snow. Just the old people, though, teenagers don't seem to want to get up early and hike in the cold. But that was the best part. North Carolina was transported into a fairy land between three and five thousand feet up into the hills. It was magical.
We got extremely lucky driving around on the roads too. Not a speck of trouble. Salt trucks and plows did their jobs well. We saw one accident coming and going, on the interstate, with insane backups for miles, but in the other direction both times, and it looked as though no one was seriously injured. Lucky.
It's disconcerting, sometimes, taking the same trip over and over each year, everyone older and the kids so nearly grown. It's particularly frustrating to pay for a place like this that we only visit once or twice a year now, since the teenagers aren't as portable as they were ten or eleven years ago. We bought this place back when the business was good and the economy was functional, right after 9/11, when we felt a need to hunker down for vacations somewhere closer to the rest of our families. It's funny, though, we rarely manage to drive any further east to see them, and they rarely manage to drive west to see us. Life is busy and complicated, for everyone. We have tried to sell this place over the years, but as you can well imagine, no one is buying, at least not for the price we paid, so we hang on to it, hope the market rebounds someday and count our blessings that we can still make the payments and the trip. It's a blessing and a curse. My husband and I like to imagine ourselves retired here, someday, sooner rather than later. We talked this time about how many more times both kids will make this trip with us. Not many, for certain. My son is eager to be on his own, be left alone, to be out from under our wings. It will happen soon enough. I'm trying not to hold to tight to anyone or anything, but just let it all happen and soak it in while it is here. To be present. Not my best skill set, but so much easier when you step back from the world for a bit.
I knew that the first time my parents brought me to these hills when I was a child that I would be back. I feel like I was born in the wrong geography, I'm not a flat lander, I can't be. The hills sing to my eyes and clear my head. Maybe it's the thin air. I'm already planning some time back in the mountains this summer, regardless of who wants to come with me. The dog is always up for a road trip, and he's as quiet in the car as the teenagers. Plus he's the reason I take those refreshing walks.
This trip was particularly scenic and lovely, thanks to the snow. Funny we had to drive so far south to get a white Christmas. My drive back north today through the sunshine, snow covered trees and rocky passes was a gift. Our hikes through the fresh snow snapped me back with such clarity to my college hikes in hills of West Virginia, where I used to think sleeping in a tent on the snow was the perfect getaway. These days, I need a firm mattress, a warm shower and a nice fire for my getaway to be perfect. And some nice wine and good company. This year I got everything I needed.
Hope your Holidays were relaxing and lovely to look at too.