The anchovies sizzled in the pan and eventually dissolved in the olive oil before I tossed in a generous heap of chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. This formed the base of one of my favorite comfort foods, pasta with broccoli, garlic and anchovies – a dish that quickly found its way to our dinner table the week we returned from vacation. After many days of indulging in fried seafood by the coast, a simply prepared poached salmon with grated fresh ginger, sesame and ponzu sauce, though not much to look at, was also an enormously satisfying meal. The house had the strong, pungent odor of my cooking as I went about dusting the cat hair that collected in the two weeks we were away from the furniture and in various nooks of the house, unpacking two suitcases with two cats who, after our absence, would not leave my side, so happy they were that we were home.
But they’re not alone. As much as I enjoyed our time on the road, celebrating my birthday in the Big Easy and watching my girls flourish with their grandparents, I couldn’t be more gratified working on the most mundane tasks – carefully laundering the clothes covered in sand from our spontaneous visit to the beach on the surprisingly beautiful Gulf coast, weeding my crispy, brown yard that got fried while we were away, cooking comfort foods we rarely find on restaurant menus – in my own home as we spent our last week of summer vacation together before school starts. It’s lovely to be able to escape routine sometimes, but even lovelier to come back to it as the time away resurrected my appreciation for the little things that made home, home. Like my bed. Sinking into sleep that first night back was and is always a pleasure beyond words. Like the silence around the house as we immersed ourselves in our own task at hand, with the occasional humming in the background as the girls bring to life a scene from some Disney movie in their coloring book with crayons, color pencils, and markers.
Like the little craft corner that we have carved out for our girls, where they spend many minutes, sometimes hours, just coloring or drawing or cutting or pasting or whatever creative task du jour, affording me time to putter about in the kitchen or the yard. They still don’t play outside like I hoped they would, but now that it’s finally getting into the triple-digit temps, I don’t blame them. While I sought the comfort of routine in my kitchen, they found theirs in this dedicated spot. It’s often the first place we find them in the mornings; while the grownups are still trying to shake sleep from our eyes, they’re already busy making art.
I loved how each of us slid comfortably back into our respective roles with renewed vigor. We’re energized by our travels, but exploring and discovering different parts of the country also affirmed our appreciation for our part of the world. This was my first trip away from Austin since we moved here five months ago, and it would be the first time in a long, long, long time that I wouldn’t have Chicago’s magnificent skyline to welcome me home. I didn’t know how I’d react upon returning to our new city, but when I spotted the now familiar sight of Austin’s skyline in the last 20 minutes of our very long journey, I was overcome with joy. The cityscape here pales in comparison to Chicago’s – it doesn’t have quite the architectural gems like the Sears, I mean, Willis Tower, the intricate Chicago Tribune Building, the diamond-shaped roofline of the Stone Container (now Crain Communications) Building, or even the imposing sight of the Hancock Building, but one thing Austin does have that Chicago doesn’t: our house.
And, really, that’s all the welcome home I needed. That, and my bed, of course.