Home Sweet Home: O. H. I. O.

Gabe is from Ohio, which is where his brother’s wedding was held (our reason for coming home to the US).    He is from the western side, but on the way in from Virginia, we stopped in Columbus to see some of his good college friends.  It was really nice to catch up with this sweet family, see their new house, and enjoy some local cuisine.

After Columbus, we continued driving to Mendon, his hometown.

We were very much busy with the wedding set-up, but had time to visit his grandma along with Gabe’s grandfather.  They are both doing good and we had nice visits, making us wish we were closer.

Gabe & Grandma

We also had the opportunity to witness some beautiful Ohio sunsets on Gabe’s family farm.

Sunset on the Johnson family farm

The night before the wedding, we threw a Ohio State themed rehearsal dinner.  Since D’s family was from Brazil, we wanted to provide a taste of what a family get-together was like in Ohio.  With B being an Ohio State fan, we figured an American football themed soiree would provide a glimpse into typical family & fall parties.

Testing the pork being served for the rehearsal dinner

Everyone dressed in Ohio State’s colors of red/white/grey.  It provided with some fun for the actual rehearsal.

Bridesmaids & bride, decked out in Ohio State colors. None of us went to Ohio State 🙂

Gabe’s parents in their Ohio State red attire

Processional practice in Ohio State digs. I was impressed that everyone from Brazil got into the theme so well!

If I had an award for “Best Dressed” I would give it to this family for their perfect combination of color!

After the rehearsal, we all drove to Gabe’s family farm where we were hosting the rehearsal dinner.  All the foods were typical of Ohio and we jazzed up the house with themed decorations.

Ohio State paper decorations and confetti

Delicious homemade pies made by the aunts

We downloaded this graphic from the internet and printed on label paper for fun wine bottle decorations

Ohio State accents

The crowd flowing through the buffet in the kitchen

The band, dressed in their Ohio State finest.  Notice their Ohio State koozies, a favor from the party.

The Brazilian crowd enjoying the Ohio feast.

It was so good to have some time in O-H-I-O!!!

Home Sweet Home: Virginia

Both Gabe and I got to make it to Appomattox, my hometown, to see friends and family before heading up to B & D’s wedding.  Appomattox is located in Central Virginia.  It is most famous for the fact that the American Civil War ended there in 1865, with Lee’s Surrender.

Image courtesy of robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com

The town is quite small but Gabe is accustomed to small rural towns; actually, where he grew up in Mendon, Ohio is of similar size.   When we first started dating, there was actually an argument / competition who was from the smaller town.  I would argue that my town didn’t have 911 yet (required all roads to have street names vs. road numbers, which hadn’t happened yet) and he would argue that he had zero stoplights in his town.   Appomattox now has about 4-5 stoplights in the County, and the town has since gotten 911.  Mendon still has zero stoplights.  So, I guess he wins.

Image courtesy of epodunk.com

Anyhow, we had a really nice time visiting the family in Appomattox and enjoying Virginia-type stuff.  It was too short, though, and we look forward to more time our next visit.

Below are a few photos of our stay:

Nana (my mom) and I went to visit my niece and nephew for a school lunch in Lynchburg.  I only took photos with my niece as my nephew is 10 and this might not be cool to have your aunt documenting her visiting you at school.

Waiting for Gabe’s flight, Mom and I had lunch with friends and then visited Veritas winery in Charlottesville. A great way to kill time 🙂

Nephew B came to visit and we had a typical day at Nana & Papa’s: hunting for golf balls in the backyard.  Papa may have tossed 10 out before we went outside, but we did find two legit ones.

B having fun visiting Burke’s tavern and the sheep

My friend C and her husband brought adorable A over to play. She was ready for the first Hokie game in her VT attire!

Visiting the family in Lynchburg  to watch some great backyard action with nephew C and Zoey.

Home Sweet Home: Charlotte

While we were in the States for the wedding, I was able to visit Charlotte, the city in which I lived after college (up until Switzerland) as my first stop.  Sadly, Gabe’s vacation is a bit limited, so he couldn’t join for this part.

I landed in the Queen City after a succession of three flights and nineteen hours of travel.  My bags miraculously made it, which surprised me greatly because my connections in Paris and JFK involved lots of running.   So, thanks, Delta.

Driving around the first few days in the States is a typically a combination of good / sad at the same time.   First off, I love driving.  I really miss it when in Geneva, since I don’t how to drive our manual car.  Especially on hills.  I crank the radio really loud and enjoy singing loudly to the English Top-40 songs that play…it’s good to actually know the words and have a change from the same 5 English songs they play on repeat in Geneva.

Other highlights are visiting my friends and hitting the favorite spots.  And doing hot yoga as much as I can to try to burn out of it before I go back to Switzerland.

However, as I am driving around, passing parts of Charlotte make me tear up.    Passing R’s old apartment, my eyes welled remembering all the good times we had as single girls in the city and all our post-work neighborhood walks.    Driving to work to meet coworkers is another source of nostalgia since I worked for the same company for ten years.   “Camping” in my old house, which is now completely empty is another emotional spot .

A stormy night in the Queen City

Since Charlotte was my first city on the trip back to the US, I wanted to share my odd list of things I noticed with “foreigner eyes” back in my old home:

–       Charlotte = Blond + colorful.  The first 4 hours of my first day in Charlotte included a hot yoga class and a sermon at my old church.  Everyone dressed brightly in both places.   And there were astonishing amounts of blond people.   In Geneva, most everyone dresses in black and dark grey.  Occasionally, if they are feeling wild, it can go navy.  And skin and hair colors are of full range, since 50% of the city is made up of foreigners including pretty much every nationality.   I never really noticed this prior….but it was a really overwhelming observation on my first day back.

–       Customer service.  Readers of this blog know that I have my challenges with customer service in Switzerland.  You never ever sub / delete anything from a dish on a menu, or else they would just suggest you order something else.     When I dined with friends  in Charlotte, a few times, they made substitutions or changes.  One friend someone sent something back.  I shrunk back in my chair, awaiting a backlash….but, the waiters could not have been more accommodating.    After our time in Europe, it has become odd to me how much American servers check on their tables or come around for refills.  Since this is not something I am used to anymore, I have this odd paranoia surrounding overly nice servers like they are going to do something crazy any moment.  Weird, I know…..it’s just that I have been reverse-conditioned for Southern hospitality.

–       Related, but customization.  I frequented a few frozen yogurt stores in Charlotte.  I am a huge fan of fro-yo, but even since we left a year and a half ago, there is a crazy proliferation of the little joints….I counted 7 more storefronts than I’d seen.    And all of them allow you to make your own….so you fill the yogurt, and add your toppings, and weigh it, then pay.       Similar to this, in enjoying meals with friends at Bad Daddy’s and going to new Dilworth addition, Crisp, I was able to re-experience the  “build your own burger” and “make your own salad” concepts.  This was familiar before our move, but after living in Geneva for a year and a half, it was unfathomable to me….customers can have it however they want.  This is definitely not part of our Swiss vocabulary.

–       Speed of life.  Everyone is in a rush in the US, running around, jamming things in.  This type of hurried lifestyle is one of my least favorite characteristics about myself that I know I need to improve and I am trying to work on.  It is easier to work on Switzerland where fewer people behave in this manner, so it becomes more normal to take things slow.   However, I noticed myself picking up the pace in the US during my short time and becoming more “efficient” to keep up.   It reminds me that I’ll have to figure out how to bring back the Swiss calmness and lessons learned on relaxing when we move back home permanently.

–       Doing errands is easy in the US.   I know where things are and what type of stores have them.  I don’t have to research where, the address, and bus schedules.  I just hop in the car and go.   The best is that I can keep purchases and future supplies in the car versus schlepping them around all day.  And, I can go in my gym clothes which is a huge no-no in Geneva.

–       Cost.  When a few of my lunches added up to $7  – $10 USD, I gleefully forked over the cash.  These lunch meals would have been 25 -40 CHF in Geneva.  This is why I have only eaten lunch out in Geneva five times in 15 months.  It felt nice to eat out and not feel like I was going to bankrupt us doing so.

–  I still am afraid someone is going to steal my purse.  I never used to be afraid of this in the States, but living in Europe, its a constant worry….after all, most of my friends have caught a hand in their zipped purses at some point or another and a few others have had purses or wallets stolen.   I caught myself looping my leg through the straps while in church and realized I can likely adjust my behavior while home and relax just a little bit.

Thanks for a great visit, everyone!

A cross section of some of the fun visits I had in Charlotte

Gratitude Friday: Our new family member!

This Gratitude Friday, I am excited to announce that we have a new family member!  Gabe’s brother, B, just got married last weekend so his lovely bride, D, is officially one of the fam.

As far as in-law families go, I really lucked out with mine.   And we feel very blessed to have D joining the Johnson clan.  She is energetic & colorful, and adds a lot of fun anytime we are all together.  We love learning about her Brazilian heritage, hearing her stories, and enjoying her delicious cooking.  Most importantly, she is the perfect partner for B.

So, we are so very happy for them and for our good fortune at having her for a sister-in-law.

Here are a few snapshots from their nuptials, which took place in Rockford, Ohio last weekend.  Many of D’s Brazilian family and friends joined us so it was a really wonderful celebration of love and joy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A day at the beach…including killer ducks

Hermance is located north of Geneva.  It is 30 minutes on Bus E.    I mentioned in a previous post, it is a nice little village, beautiful and charming.  Also, for guests, it can be a quick way to cross the border into France, as we did this spring.

Charming Hermance

It also has a really nice stone beach.   I visited this summer with my friend San Francisco Gal.  We made a picnic and enjoyed the sunshine.

A few things to know about the beach in Hermance:

-entry is 4 CHF for adults and 1 CHF for kids

-they have a snack shop, so you can purchase food & drinks (alternatively, we brought our own)

-its really windy since it is on a point…be prepared for temperatures cooler than Geneva

-its a rock beach as is common on Lake Geneva.   Maybe bring water shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking/swimming.

Hermance beach

-there are a lot of scuba divers.  They have special scuba showers and it is common to witness scuba activity such as this:


Scuba guys

-They have some ‘killer’ ducks.   It started as innocent as them pecking at my big toe, but then they quickly took over our picnic.   Have you ever seen anything like this?




Gratitude Friday: Happiness on the Homefront

I just got back from the USA.  It’s always so nice so see everyone.   I had nine awesome days.

However, instead of just being grateful for my trip, my gratitude Friday post goes out to my thankfulness for everyone’s health and happiness.    All the friends and family I saw are doing well.

Adding on to the thankfulness for joy, many friends are enjoying parenthood for the first time, or just enjoying their families expanding.     On last Friday alone, I visited 14 children, all under four.  3 of whom I’d met for the first time.  Many prayers have been said over the last few years hoping for these sweet little ones to be born healthy.  It is pretty neat to see how it’s come to life 🙂

As a bonus, I got to see my 4th infant on Monday, hours before flying out.  You’ll be happy to know that Gisele (from Zermatt &  Mt Blanc blog adventures) had a baby girl just in time for me to meet her in route to the airport.

It’s not like me to not take photos…but I was having too much fun visiting to bring out the camera.  I literally didn’t remember it until Saturday at the pool cookout that R & R threw.  So here are a few of the ones I took that day:

A special cookout – so good to hang out with everyone!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday: An Amazing US Trip

Post by Lauren

This post was easy. We are very grateful for an amazing three weeks in the USA. We were able to fit so much in, and in all, I think we saw easily over 100 friends and family members. Below is a pictorial recap:

We stayed the night with great friends after landing at Dulles at 4pm. Conveniently they live 5 minutes away from the airport and a Mexican restaurant. Two amazing things when you are jet-lagged. We enjoyed an evening with them and had a 7am flight to:


I was able to participate in our annual Casserole Christmas. This holiday was born when there was a group of us Southern gals working together who discovered that Isabella usually didn’t have casseroles for Thanksgiving and Christmas, mainly fresher Californian type foods. We wanted to showcase our heart-heavy casseroles for her, so this event was born with about 6 or 7 of us. As you can see, there are a few Casserole-lovers in the making. One is a 2nd child, one a 3rd and another a 4th child – can you believe it?

I was able to participate in our annual Casserole Christmas. This holiday was born when there was a group of us Southern gals working together who discovered that Isabella usually didn’t have casseroles for Thanksgiving and Christmas, mainly fresher Californian type foods. We wanted to showcase our heart-heavy casseroles for her, so this event was born with about 6 or 7 of us. As you can see, there are a few Casserole-lovers in the making. One is a 2nd child, one a 3rd and another a 4th child - can you believe it?

We also hosted Pizza Night. Since we had limited time in Charlotte, we thought it was the only way we could see such a volume of friends with most working. We just ordered some food into our empty house in Charlotte. We wish we could have spent more time talking to everyone but are thankful that those who were able to joined us, did!

We also hosted Pizza Night. Since we had limited time in Charlotte, we thought it was the only way we could see such a volume of friends with most working. We just ordered some food into our empty house in Charlotte. We wish we could have spent more time talking to everyone but are thankful that those who were able to joined us, did!


We were so fortunate C & J were in town (for the previous Thursday night Hokie Game) with their new little bundle of joy. They brought her over after we arrived for playtime and Mom, Annette and I fought over who played with her.


We had the pleasure of visiting with all but one of my aunts/uncles in Appomattox (don’t worry, we got to see them later!). Mom had also arranged to have my stepsisters and their families join us for a Thankgiving brunch. What a full time of fun!



We continued onto Cincinnati. We stayed with Andres for a night in his cozy Victorian. We went out for sushi and then onto The Lackman, a really cool bar in downtown Cinci. I am sad I didn’t take a photo except for this one of Gabe and Maude on the sofa. But, I made up for it in Columbus where we got some shots of N & L’s adorable girls. We learned that a 2 year old can operate an iPad better than I can. It helps that she is above the curve, but still….I have some catching up to do.



In Gabe’s hometown, we had 3 Thanksgivings, a birthday, and an engagement to celebrate. We had absolutely beautiful Ohio weather. We were excited to have my Mom & Buster join us for the final Thanksgiving.



Gabe worked in Atlanta but during the evenings we were able to visit friends and family. We were able to meet Baby S finally. I also got to meet Baby CA as I didn’t get to see her before we departed for Switzerland. We celebrated my cousins wife’s birthday with them at their home. Also, I got to have an all day date with a dear friend for some catch up time and as a bonus, we picked up her cute twins at daycare.


Next, we separated. Gabe went to Philly and NYC to visit friends and for his annual guys trip.  I returned to Charlotte to celebrate a birthday and VT game.

Whew, what a great time! We are thankful that everything went smoothly. All the flights were relatively on time and we lost no bags (checking 4 each time!). We are also very thankful we got to see so many people and we didn’t get sick. I was a little paranoid about getting some sort of cold when I had a full schedule of meeting infants.

We are truly blessed.

We are going to rest this weekend to catch up from all the fun! Bon weekend, everyone!