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Back in the US of A

Maryland and Virginia

December 4 - 20
written December 5 and later, bit by bit

Dear Friends and Families,

No longer Euro-Americans, Marianne and I are starting our new chapter - or maybe book.  Part of this start is a shift to more visits to friends and family and less to new places and buildings.  We started with friends Nancy and Steve in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC.  Steve met us at the airport Wednesday evening and brought us home, where everyone got busy catching up on latest activities.  "Catching up" would be a theme for the next several days.

d131205_02_Torpedo.jpgd131205_04_artSpace.jpgOn Thursday we picked up our rental car, but only drove back to Nancy and Steve's.  Later, Nancy dropped Steve off at the Metro to go to a business meeting, while the three of us continued down to Alexandria's "Torpedo Factory", one of our favorite art spaces.  Marianne is hoping to find just such a facility in Fresno, albeit smaller for sure.

d131205_06_Deck.jpgd131205_08_CousCous.jpgBack home, dinner was out on the deck.  The calendar said early December, but the weather was warm enough to pretend it was mid-Fall.  We had heard there was a cold front coming our way, so we made the most of the unseasonably warm evening.

This had been a good start on the "visit friends" theme, and on Friday evening we doubled the crowd.  Chin and Peter had invited Marianne, me, Nancy, and Steve, as well as Mary and John, all good friends from our Kiev days, for an evening of story-telling and a great meal. 

Good conversation requires a degree of common life-experiences and that is often problematic for former ex-pats. People without this commonality generally glaze over when one talks more than a few minutes about "over there". In our group of eight, we could easily blend over-there stories with everyone's latest events and activities, with each contributing interesting bits and pieces about foreign lands or kids and grandkids or senior ailments.  Yeah, the last is "common life experience" as well, but need not be the focus when there are other topics on the agenda.
And, we were served a wonderful meal.


On Saturday, we headed off to visit Geoff and Suzanne and Ryan and Sean.  Marianne and little Sean met for the first time and seemed to get along just fine.  The day was spent just hanging around, with a couple of meals thrown in, a nice way to reconnect with Oma and Opa.

The Sunday forecast was for ice, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, perfect weather for playing inside with grandkids, but their mom had cautioned us that we need to arrange some outside running around first.  Spoken with the wisdom moms have.  For Oma and Opa, it was all good!
Indoor cheer and activities
Outdoor fun
Car iced over in the morning

d131209_02_IceStart.jpgd131209_04_neighbors.jpgMonday morning started out icy, but things were melting by the time we left at 9:30.  The drive down to Solomons in southern Maryland was uneventful, even when we tried to go off the main highway to "see the sights".  What we saw was a mix of large, new homes typical of the greater DC area and nearby, rougher, establishments.  Interesting.

In Solomons, the only open attraction we found was the Maritime Museum.  We were almost the only customers.  Interesting enough.
Our personal tour of the Drum Lighthouse involved a bit of climbing.
Dinner with our friend Mike was worth the side trip to Solomon's, even with the discouraging weather.  We promised to stay in touch, in line with our resolutions for our new, American, life.

d131210_02_NastyWeather.jpg Tuesday morning started with another ice and snow forecast. We headed out  nonetheless, guided by our TomTom navigator on a southerly route that, in the end, avoided the icy stuff, although there was plenty of gray rain.

By the time we got to Lynchburg the sun was coming out!  We checked into the Craddock Terry, a very nice hotel built in an old shoe factory.  Reportedly, the Craddock Terry Shoe Company was the largest shoe producer in the world, in its day, but the downtown factory was abandoned decades ago, like much of urban Lynchburg.  Now, the downtown is gradually, very gradually, regaining some life, including the historic hotel. 
Nice room, with an old industrial view.
Dinner was at Shoemaker's, in the hotel complex, with Roger and Joann.  Nice company for a nice meal.

Wednesday started with a bit of Christmas shopping and ended with dinner with friends.  Sandra and Bob had originally volunteered to house us, but thought better as the completion of their new house dragged out. (Surprise, surprise.)  I swear they left things in boxes and unfinished just to make us feel at home.  In any event, they promised to come by California for a visit, once WE get settled.
The almost-empty great room made occupants seem small.
Meanwhile, the kitchen and guest room are works in progress
Thursday started early, as days always do nowadays.  I have not slept past the early hours in months it seems.  The early walk allowed me a few pictures of Lynchburg in nice dawn light, when old buildings and kitschy store windows look their best.
Breakfast was at "Market at Main", a new favorite.
d131212_02_Gang.jpgThe rest of the day included more shopping, resting, and another dinner-with-friends, this time at "Dish", one of my favorite establishments in Lynchburg.  Dinner was with Ben, a friend and colleague from his stint in Offenbach a couple of years ago.  He introduced us to his charming wife Kelley and we caught up on their activities and our plans; another evening's nice memories and an invitation/commitment for a Fresno visit.

 On Friday the 13th, we returned to the Trotters up in Maryland, and settled in for a family weekend.  Mostly it was hanging around home and playing with Ryan and Sean.  Works for Oma and Opa.  On Sunday we visited the Glenview Mansion in Rockville to get the Christmas spirit.  There were crowds and kids and kitsch throughout the mansion and, despite the number of visitors, it was fun and positive and definitely a nudge toward feeling Ho Ho Ho.
Art participation and appreciation.

Meanwhile, we have been monitoring our shipments from Germany.  No word on the car, but the container of furniture is making it's way.  Last report: off the French coast; next stop: New York, the day before Christmas Eve.
On Monday (the 16th), Oma and Opa had babysitting duty.  Task #1 was driving Ryan to school and this went off without a hitch.  We celebrated by taking Sean out to IHOP for breakfast.  Then it was nap time, Sean only I must point out, lunch and some playground time.
After that, it was back to school for pick-up.  Ryan's school is very organized about picking up students, with everyone assigned a number and cars orderly lined up (mostly) along the curb. Hundreds of elementary school kids are let out at the same time to join scores of walking and driving parents and escorts, filling the space with happy chatter.   Worth the 45-minute wait (especially for Sean, who took another nap.)

d131216_06_dinner.jpgWe had dinner out with Mary and Dan, Suzanne's parents, catching up on family developments.  They, too, are retired and seem to be enjoying the extra time it provides, especially for babysitting duty for Sean and Ryan.  They are the professionals at this task, but we enjoyed our one-day substitution.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had a couple of more visits with Maryland friends. A morning coffee with Sergey was interesting as he told stories of his latest travels. He may be the most-traveled of our friends, and it's always interesting hearing about his latest, in this case the Dominican Republic, other Central American countries, and a few African destinations.  He had once sent us to Ukraine and another assignment is always lurking, but I'm not sure we have the adventure left in us.  But, maybe...

d131218_02_Negins.jpgWe also checked in with Roman, another successful retiree and grandfather, and we compared notes.  Maybe we will join his clan for a visit to their summer compound in Atlantic City MD?  Never can tell.  Later, we were invited by Alice and Chuck for dinner and more catching up.  They had just gotten off the plane from Vienna but managed a nice dinner nonetheless. Impressive.  They talked about potentially moving out to California, to be nearer kids and grandkids, so they went onto our list of potentials for a Fresno visit.  Great.

And, speaking of kids and grandkids, we also had a Christmas present session with Geoff, Suzanne, Ryan and Sean.  For sure, we are into the Christmas spirit now.
On Thursday, we left the family for a visit with Robin and Art down in Virginia.  It was interesting to see the new home they have for all their European antiques that we had last seen in Germany. Robin took us on a tour to the Lorton Workhouse art center and Marianne could hardly been torn away.
The Art Center, with no pictures allowed inside, is built in the old prison/workhouse at Lorton.
A small museum gave the history of the prison, including the role it played in the suffragette movement, when leaders were held after violating anti-demonstration laws.  Public exposure of the harsh treatment at Lorton eventually increased support for women's rights.
Friday continued with the Robin and Art visit, first breakfast and then a trip up the Potomac River to the National Harbor in Washington.  The drive showed why people (wealthy people) enjoy a home near the nation's capital as we passed wonderful homes, just minutes from downtown.  Our goal was a quick swing through "Ice!", an elaborate display of colored and carved ice at the Gaylord National Hotel.  Fun enough, but  cold (9F  or -10C) that brought back memories of walking the street of Kiev.  Unpleasant memories, but the show was fun nonetheless.
The blue coats were warm, but hands and faces froze.
Note the selfie in the video screen.
The rest of the day was spent saying good-bye, first to Robin and Art, and then to Nancy and Steve, who provided us a ride out to our hotel. 

d131221_02_Sierras.jpgSaturday morning wakeup came early at 5:00, with a 5:45 taxi to Dulles airport.  There, we went through the normal formalities in pretty good time, and were ordering breakfast out by the gate by 6:30.  Take-off was 90 minutes later, and I am writing this five hours after that, above the Rockie Mountains.  We can't wait to be home in Fresno!

Regards and do stay in touch.

John and Marianne


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