Our big family vacation when I was growing up was a spring break trip to Disney World every few years. This was an extravagant trip, even for a private school kid. These days, I hear, kids take spring break trips to Thailand and Paris. Oh how the times have changed.

But on those mornings, my mom would come wake us early, my two sisters and I would dress in our matching outfits from Lands End, and pick up our freshly stuffed matching back packs, and giddily skip to the taxi that my dad had waiting outside. I always remember the smell of those mornings. Cool early spring air. We always left when the sky was dark, so we could land in Orlando with time to swim in the pool before our traditional first night dinner at the resort.

That, to me, defines the epitome of vacations. The early  morning smell, the cool air, and a giddy heart. Oh, and a back pack that your mom had stuffed with goodies to keep you entertained on a series of flights across the country (we were never allowed to open our pack backs until we boarded our first flight. I remember fingers twitching over the zippers as we dove in to find new coloring books, crayons and our respective favorite snacks).
So when Jimmy and I stacked our meticulously packed bags in the hall the night before (full of under-used brightly colored summer clothes; not treats and coloring books but almost as good), and took our 430 am walk to the airport bus, I was transported back into the mind of that giddy little girl on her way to meet Pluto (who is way better than Mickey anyway).
This time, we were headed some where better: home.

I hesitate so long over saying “home.” Finland, for now, is my home. But also, Boise is my home and Salt Lake City is my home because I feel at home there upon arrival.

Jimmy and I hopped a quick flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam straight into Salt Lake City. We arrived at 1pm on the same day that we left (though a full 17 hours later). Jimmy’s little brother Gray (and one of my all time favorite people) picked us up and drove us into a whirlwind that has consumed us until we returned to the airport four days later.

We were staying with Mike and Sharon, Jimmy’s aunt and uncle, who live just down the street from our collegiate residences at the University of Utah. Incidentally, this was one of the first places I stayed in Salt Lake when we were visiting the university as wee high school kids. They have always run a very open and welcoming house, hosting frequent Sunday dinners and holidays for college transplants. They may as well replace their back screen door with a revolving one.

After catching up with family members who cycled their way through, we walked down the street with Mike and Gray for a pick-me-up meal. Jimmy and I had been awake for 19 hours with still plenty more to go. We readily let ourselves slip back into the easy conversations that we had missed so much over the past nine months; Gray’s school and work and summer plans; Mike’s recent and always entertaining adventures.

The next event on the itinerary was a stop by at a friends house for a birthday party. Jimmy’s fraternity “little brother,” and one of our groomsmen was finally turning 21 and hosting an appropriately large party with another friend. His family and Jimmy’s family are also great friends anyhow, so it was a great time. After saying hello to the early arrivers, we went down to the baseball stadium, where we told friends to meet us if they wanted to say hello.

Possibly the biggest negative about living so far away and taking such infrequent trips back is that we have a lot of people to see in such a short period of time. We figured that a good solution was to just do one  big event where we could see as many people as possible; so we purchased general admission tickets to a baseball game and told everyone to meet us there if they wanted to. The turn out was small, but it was still a very fun event and we got to see and spend time with people that we may not have seen otherwise. For example, I got to visit with Jillian, who was one of my closests friends in college. I had not seen her for around 2 years, as she left for her LDS mission about a year before I left for Finland. We have such good friends that Erin Wynn, a bridesmaid and great friend, who couldn’t make it to the game met us in a gas station parking lot outside afterwards on her way home (dressed in formal attire from a work event) just to say hi!

 After the game, we went back up to the 21 year old party and chatted with the stragglers and parents who were still milling around the fire (and giving those little college kids a run for their money.)

We had set Sunday aside for “Family Day” so we could see Jimmy’s family more. After breakfast at a favorite local establishment, The Blue Plate Diner, with the birthday boys from the night before and their parents, we headed up to Snowbird ski resort to enjoy a Beerfest with Jimmy’s little brother and cousin. It was a gorgeously sunny day in the mountains -two things we had not experienced for some time- complete with samplings of a variety of great beer from around the country. Pretty hard to beat that, eh? Oh, and yes, both Jimmy and I got sun burned.

It being Small Lake City, we ran into a few people we knew along the way before heading back into the valley for dinner with the family. So unfortunately, Jimmy’s grandparents could not make it, but we still ended up with an amazing dinner (per usual) around a big outdoor table with good conversation and even better company. We ended the night watching the finale of Game of Thrones with Gray and Meagan at Gray’s house that he shares with a few other guys.

Monday was a day I had looked forward to most. Our great friends Liz and Will took the day off of work to spend with us. As some of the only through-college couples, we used to drive to formals and events together, and we just have tons of awesome memories palling around. In the morning, Lizzy picked me up and we went off to have mani’s and pedi’s together. As I have said many times, easy conversation is one of the things I miss the most, and it is something that Liz and I have together. We sat in our adjacent spa chairs gabbing about this and that (though we found ourselves talking about careers and mortgages and all sorts of adult things that were weird). We met up with Jimmy and Will who had spend the morning at breakfast and on the driving range and together we all made for Park City, where we planned to have an early lunch before a Whiskey tour and tasting.
High West Distillery is Utah’s first and favorite distiller, opened in the 1870’s. A true American West experience with tables in both an old saloon and the historic home next door, this place usually has hours long waits for dinner in the winter, so the best time to go is for lunch in the off season. Both the cocktail and food menus never disappoint.

After a long lunch with a sampling of a few of their best cocktails, we lined up for a tour of the distillery and ended with a tasting of their various booze, including flavored vodkas, double ryes, bourbons, and more inventive whiskey concoctions.

After the tour, we walked the length of Main Street, Park City’s best attraction, bought some ice cream to get out of a short down pour, popped in and out of swanky shops, and then headed out. After a quick stop at the outlets, we made our way back to Salt Lake for the evening.

After visiting with Liz and Will’s adorable dog Aspen, Jimmy went off to bowl with some friends and I met up with Annmarie, who just happened to be in town over the weekend from San Francisco. We drove into the foothills and sat  at the base of “The U” -a huge concrete U in the side of the mountain above the University of Utah, aptly called “The U”- and watched an impressive lightning storm consume the valley. It was so refreshing to sit there in the warm rain and catch up with a good friend about life and goings on and what it is like to move away.
I then caught up with Jimmy and our friend Strike for a few drinks at another favorite establishment, Bar X, for a cocktail and great conversation before calling it quits for the night.

Tuesday was our last full day in Salt Lake. We started with breakfast at Ruth’s diner with Talbot and Kiffer, two more groomsmen and possibly some of the best company you will find. Not only do they bicker like an old married couple and have the most frank conversations (where nothing is off limits), but they are also some of the truest of friends that we are blessed to count as our own. We took a long drive through the beautiful canyons of Utah and up to a look out, where me goofed around and laughed before we had to come back.

That afternoon I met up with Gabby, bridesmaid and kindred spirit, to do some shopping. I needed to stock up on my beauty products so, as I said to her, “Want to help me spend Jimmy’s money?” and we did just that. We tried on expensive clothes that we had no plans of buying, and then got me enough make up to last for the next year (if not more). We love to get dressed up together, especially for a night of country dancing.

That evening we went up to Ogden to see Jimmy’s grandparents. We all milled around their perfectly appointed condo and marveled at their amazing view over the Salt Lake. We had a lovely dinner on their patio and chatted through the sunset hours. Jimmy’s grandfather and namesake is a real champ, having recently come back from a very serious illness. He looked great and was still full of humor, as always. I love being around both Jim and Joan, as they are some of the most welcoming and pleasant people around. We were very happy that we got to spend an evening with them before heading out the next morning. It was sad to say goodbye, but hopefully we got them all squared away on Skype so we can chat more this year.

Utah sunsets never disappoint

Our next stop: Las Vegas, to be continued


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