… Dayton, Ohio

I grew up playing volleyball and joined a sand volleyball league in 2015 where I quickly met my awesome friends Todd and Brian (and over time, their significant others, Rachel and Melissa, respectively). The 3 of us played together every Sunday for years until Brian, an Ohio native, moved back to Ohio in 2020 with his wife and kids. Brian always talked about an annual “mud volleyball” tournament Dayton throws and because we missed our friends so much, Todd, Rachel, and I finally made the trip up North. The tournament was a BLAST but I also enjoyed the 5 of us spending time together like old times. I sobbed like a baby when they moved (to be fair, we all did) so of course I have to jump on any opportunity to all be together again!

Thursday, July 15

Per usual, I barely slept the night before traveling. I need to stop booking early flights because I get paralyzed with fear that I will sleep past an alarm and miss it. Per my already-scratched FitBit, I slept 2 hours and 40 minutes. Yikes. I was up and out the door by 4:45am with a sinking feeling that I was forgetting something (narrator: she did not forget anything). My flight was out of Terminal E, one I was not as familiar with but in IAH’s defense, all the terminals have undergone tremendous construction and I am not as familiar with any of them anymore. The federal mask mandate was still in effect, obviously, but I probably would have worn one anyway given the Delta variant. People still cannot wear their mask over their nose though which means at this point, they are intentionally doing that and therefore are crummy people. Namaste. I had a layover in Chicago and I get anxious about losing my bag if I have to change planes so I traveled with a carry-on this time. Security was a breeze because I am a pro and it still amazes me that other people cannot get through without issue, but I digress. I grabbed breakfast and for once, did not have to walk 100 miles to my gate. We boarded on time on an incredibly nice, normal size plane. The seats were so nice and everything looked super clean, new, modern, and sleek. The seat backs had innovative tablet and phone holders so you could stream from your devices easily. Glad to see planes catching up with the needs of the people!

We had a slight maintenance delay taking off because an overhead bin would not close and then we were off. The safety demo guy was way into his job. I always make it a point to watch them because it it a crummy feeling when you are doing your job and no one is paying attention. Did you know they have “water activated lights” on life vests now? Is this new? Am I old?

My goal was to nap without snoring and disrupting everyone and their mom but I gave up fairly quickly. Sleeping was not in the cards for me. I still did not have wireless headphones (but have since bought a pair) which meant I could not charge my phone AND have headphones in but luckily my phone battery survived the journey and I was able to watch the majority of Garden State. I had been listening to a podcast with Zach Braff and the movies comes up ALL the time and what better time to focus on something than on a plane?

I briefly considered ordering an adult beverage to knock me out but decided on a regular Coke instead (gross) specifically for the caffeine. My bladder felt like it was going to burst as we approached Chicago. It was an incredibly turbulent flight and the pilot decided to take the scenic route over Lake Michigan and back around, not triggering my anxiety or anything. How kind of him to fly over water for funsies (I am sure there was an actual purpose). I hate flying over water but I supposed better to do that when it is a bumpy ride than fly over land… higher chance of surviving? What are the stats on that?

The annoying kid behind me who started the flight by kicking my seat a million times turned into a cute little kid once he saw the Chicago skyline and landmarks. He took a bunch of pictures and pointed out the buildings to his family. It was precious. I felt bad my big ‘ol noggin’ was blocking the window for the others in my row to see out. They were a super sweet older couple who I had chatted with a little bit. I loved the way they interacted both physically and verbally. Goals.

I had a little less than an hour layover in Chicago so I took a bathroom break, strolled over to my new gate, and charged my phone. Again, I could not charge AND listen to my headphones so I read Twitter, texted, and stretched to pass the time. There was a brief flicker of PTSD navigating the Chicago airport but I managed. I am a strong, badass woman but I am also a sensitive little emotional, delicate butterfly sometimes. Sue me. I snapped out of it quickly!

We boarded and took off on time for the final leg of the trip to Dayton. This plane was not nearly as new, nice, or clean as the other one and definitely did not have a fancy device holder. I had to check my bag at the gate because there was no room in the overhead compartments for anyone’s carry-on suitcase. I have been on my fair share of tiny planes (hello, Acapulco) but seesh, they always feel like death traps. There were a ton of kids on the flight and a lot of crying but luckily it was a very short flight. I did not even attempt to sleep and instead, read on my Kindle.

The wide open fields and spaces were beautiful to look at from above but I was excited to get on the ground and see my friends. Brian and Melissa got married in Ohio 4 years ago while I was at Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in Mexico and I sadly had to miss it (I was not invited anyway… inside joke), so this was my first time experiencing their home turf. I went to Akron, OH for a work trip a long, long time ago and there was a family trip when our plan coming back from Germany had to re-route and refuel in Dayton (we never got off the plane… the alternate “Friends” ending), but otherwise, this was my first social trip to OH and I was looking forward to it!

Brian picked me up and gave me the grand tour of his hometown. We made a few pitstops at Kroger and a liquor store to stock up for the weekend before arriving at their house. I had seen the house many times on FaceTime so it already felt like home to me. Melissa and I exchanged our hugs before she went back to her home office to finish working for the day and I made my way outside to their incredible backyard to say hi to the dogs, Blue and Billy. They were either really excited to see someone new or totally remembered me from their Texas days! I will assume the latter, of course.

Brian and Melissa visited Houston in May (our first reunion in over a year) but it did not feel like 2 months had passed. We always ease right back into things as if nothing changed. Those are the best kinds of friendships! Melissa and I got the party started by making Pineapple Prosecco Punch and we ordered Bagger Dave’s for dinner and socialized while we waited for the kids to get home. I was starving by then and scarfed my burger down embarrassingly quick.

I was super excited for the kids to arrive! Fiona was barely and year and a half old when they left and Calvin a little less than 2 months old. Fiona was always at the bar with us on Sundays for volleyball so we had all bonded with her quite a bit back in the day. I had FaceTimed with the kids a few times but I had no expectations that they would remember me. They were both hesitant at first but I very quickly won them both over. It was wild to see how much they had grown up: Fiona was a little over two and a half and talking so much, equally sassy and sweet. Calvin was almost a year and a half now and was walking and cracking me up. We did puzzles, ran around the house, played outside, and became best friends (obviously). Fiona loved my rings, specifically my Aggie ring, and I taught her how to do a thumbs up and say Gig ‘Em to Brian. Queen Aunt, right here. Luckily, he did not kick me out for the weekend! Fi helped make dinner and outsourced her labor to me. Example:

Melissa: “Fiona, can you please get the blueberries?”
Fiona: “Gigi, can you please get the blueberries?”

We played a lot more after dinner and got plenty of giggles and cuddles before the kids went to bed. I was starting to crash myself but Brian’s volleyball league was in a few hours and I was eager to play. We attempted to go through a convenient store drive-thru (amazing) but the line was long. We drove through the hilly neighborhoods and passed the factory that was the subject of the American Factory documentary before arriving at MVS, an indoor/outdoor sand volleyball facility.

I was incredibly intimidated walking up to the courts. The place was huge and the teams all looked really, really strong. The venue was massive and the drinks were cheap! We grabbed a drink and watched his friends play a few games on the indoor courts as we waited for our turn. The courts were so much bigger than mine at home and there were more “official” rules than my league so I was very nervous. I did not want to disappoint his team! Our game was on one of the outdoor courts and just as we started to warm up, it rained. Of course. There was some chaos on if we would still play or not but it slowed for a bit (and eventually stopped during our first game) and we got started. Brian’s team consisted of him, Barry, Chuka and me. The opposing team all looked to be about 20ft tall, increasing my nerves. I played backrow for most of the game and had some insanely impressive digs, even for me. The few times I did play setter (my normal position at home), I broke the B Division “spin” rule so mostly stuck to bump setting. My serves were pretty solid and I had a few hot streaks. The team complimented me a lot, validating my volleyball skills and making me feel like I am not totally trash at the sport (or just blowing smoke up my butt). We lost the first game, won the second, and won the third. I had SUCH a fun time playing! It was some of the best volleyball I have probably ever played and I felt a little proud of myself. The rallies were long and it was overall really strong, fun volleyball. It was also great to get to play with my friend and teammate again! We only wished Todd could have been there with us. I had met Barry a few times in Houston so it was fun to get to hang out with him again, too.

We have a rule in our leagues for game point serves: if you miss, you buy everyone a shot and if you get an ace, everyone buys you a shot. You will be either drunk or poor so game point serves are important! Barry missed game point so he bought everyone a round of shots at the end. Brian and I got back to the house just before 11:30pm and I was wiped out. It had been such a long travel day on very little sleep. The games had left me feeling on top of the world and invincible, making it a little difficult to doze off, so I listened to music until finally crashing.

Friday, July 16

Fiona let me borrow her room for the weekend and I slept fairly well. I was up by 8:30am and messed around on my phone before heading downstairs to start the day. Melissa had to work a half day and was on video calls so I silently read my Kindle for the morning and tried to re-hydrate. She said “good morning” at one point and I thought it was to me and I replied… until I heard someone on the call say “I guess there are visitors today.” Oops. In my defense, it could have been a lot worse. Once she was finished with calls, we all socialized and planned the day. Todd and Rachel were arriving in the early afternoon and we were pumped for them to get there. I had to re-shower because I slept with my hair wet and it was massive. Brian made eggs and toast and we watched Shameless until it was time to go to the airport. We all started re-watching Shameless together when Brian and Melissa were in Houston and I meant to keep watching it after they left but forgot. Such a good show. I really need to watch it again (note to self: start re-watching Shameless instead of forgetting again).

Todd and Rachel’s flight was delayed coming out of Chicago but once they were in the air, Brian and I headed to the airport to scoop them up. We passed downtown and Brian talked about the history of the Dayton. I love a fun fact so it was all really interesting to me. Todd and Rachel were clearly very tired (we all were) so it was a silent ride back to the house. They were starving so we grabbed Melissa and headed to The Pub for lunch. The Pub’s “signature” dish was traditional Fish ‘N Chips so just about all of us ordered that and we had a few rounds of cocktails. Not surprisingly, a little food and booze perked us all up!

We dropped Todd and Rachel off at their hotel so they could check-in and settle and while we went back to the house. Melissa and I picked up the kids from daycare; Fiona was so excited to see us (and me, duh)! Just then, it started POURING rain. Pouring. POURING. I told Fiona, “Oh no, it’s raining” to which she replied very matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry Gigi, rain cannot hurt you.” True! Melissa and I each took a kid and ran to our side of the car with the correct car seat… only to realize we were on the wrong sides of the vehicle and had to run to swap. We were all drenched and laughing and having a good time with it. Fiona entertained us with a Luke Combs song on the way home and it was the cutest. She mimicked the twang in the song and everything.

The rain lasted only a few minutes and was stopped by the time we got home. Brian picked up Todd and Rachel so they could see the kids before the grandparents watched them for the weekend. It was fun to watch Fiona and Calvin reintroduce themselves to all of us and funny to watch Fiona look at old pictures of her WITH us and realize that we all knew her from back then. You could see the wheels turning in her little head. Calvin would obviously have no memory of us but that little man was happy as a clam just walking around and being silly.

Once the kids left, we planned our evening. The original plan was to go see a Dayton Dragons game because Brian got free tickets from work but with the weather being unpredictable, we all decided it was best to skip and go out on the town. Melissa and I cleaned up and we all headed out to the Oregon District in downtown Dayton. Our first stop was at Lucky’s for a few rounds of incredibly strong drinks. So much for starting slow! Our next stop was at Belle of Dayton Distillery where we only had time for one round before our dinner reservations. I insisted we get a group picture before the sun went down and even though it was a disaster, we managed to get a good one!

Our dinner reservations were at Salar. Brian and Melissa said it was one of the best places to eat and only the best for us! It was a short walk over and we were all feeling really good. Dinner was DELICIOUS. We enjoyed appetizers, entrees, dessert, and a few too many bottles of wine but had the most fun time. The baseball game would have been nice but this was so much better because it allowed us to socialize more. We all laughed so much and roasted each other for every possible thing. Have I mentioned how much I love when the 5 of us are together? We closed the place down, dropped Todd and Rachel off at their hotel, and headed home for the night.

It rained and stormed all night and I was terrified of a tornado! The lightening was insane. Blue kept sneaking into Fiona’s room and hiding under the bed but I eventually caved and invited him up to come snuggle.

Saturday, July 17

We had an early wakeup time on Saturday, tournament day! I was up at 6:30am and was feeling great with the exception of a slight headache. Nothing Advil could not solve. I helped Brian prep the car for the inevitable muddy mess and became a doctor when I bandaged Melissa’s hurt finger up for the day. I made sandwiches for everyone, one of the few things I know how to do, and we were out the door by 7:30am, right on time. We picked up Todd and Rachel, piled into the backseat, and made our way to the tournament. The forecast had been showing rain and temperatures in the 70s but it ended up being a really decent day. Whew.

Brian had talked about this tournament for years but you had to see it to believe it. Those courts were wild. We parked and made our way to the section Chuka reserved for us the night before (thankfully, right by where our court for the day was). Todd, Rachel, and I met the rest of our team (8 people on a team) and another team of their friends who we were sharing tents/resources with for the day.

There were 35 courts and people everywhere. Several teams were dressed up in themes and having a good time with it. Brian had told us to bring clothes we did not care about but more importantly, to bring cleats that we would need to duct tape to our feet… it was about to get real. Everyone passed around the tape and prepped for the first game at 9am. Todd and I were so excited to play and get started.

The tournament served beer but the unofficial “challenge” was how to sneak in liquor without getting caught. Out of all of the water bottles and water jugs everyone brought, let’s just say only 5% of them probably contained water. We had Gatorade because Brian insisted we hydrate while we dehydrate. Yikes. We played a total of 6 games to 25 over the course of the next 6ish hours. We played flip cup, mud wrestled, and drank a LOT in between games. I cannot believe Brian did not go home to Dayton each year when he lived in Houston to attend this muddy mess. It took Todd and I all of 5 minutes to decide we would be back every single year, no question. I had a lot of fun getting to know all of their friends and it was nice to see Brian’s family again, too. It was definitely a “you had to be there” situation so I will let the pictures do most of the talking for how the day went. It was an INCREDIBLY fun time and I am so glad that Brian and Melissa invited us to join. There were no injuries and only minor sunburns so I will call the whole thing a win.

We rinsed off the best we could and piled back into the car, all feeling very “sauced” and torn up. We got back to the house a little after 5pm and I uncharacteristically went straight upstairs to shower and cleanup without helping unload the car. I still feel bad about that. I must not have been fully aware or assumed we would do it later, I do not know. Bad Jillian. I did the best to get mud out of… everywhere… in the shower and tossed my clothes and shoes into a trash bag. Getting mud and twigs out of my hair was not easy. Once I felt I was finally “clean enough,” I took an hour long nap but honestly probably could have slept through the night. Todd, Rachel, and Steve came over and we all ate pizza and chatted about the tournament and lounged around. They were all drinking but I was done for the day – I needed water, stat. Rachel snapped a ton of pictures (be still, my heart) but I was so upset with out large I looked. Bleh. I knew I had gained weight recently but dang, seeing it like that was disheartening. Granted, I had been drinking, we bloat throughout the day, “who cares,” and yada yada but I beat myself up over it pretty badly. Brian texted me a photo from the day and I noticed that my entire text thread with him was deleted and I racked my brain all night trying to figure out how that could even happen. Oh well.

Todd and Rachel went back to the hotel around 10pm and the rest of us lounged and watched Shameless for a little while longer. Brian felt bad that we were not “doing anything” but I was incredibly happy to just rest and relax. My head was killing me and it was nice to wind down. I blew my nose and it was basically all mud. Something told me I would be finding mud in places for a few days… I eventually made my way to bed.

Sunday, July 18

I did not sleep well but that was not a shock considering I had not slept well in a few days. I gave up around 8:30am and went to shower. I still felt covered in mud and my toenails were a disgusting mess. No fixing those until I got home. A little bit an overshare but I started my period which made me feel slightly better about looking and feeling so huge and bloated in every picture and which definitely explained my incredible headache. I could still stand to lose a few LBs but it made me feel excused for a minute.

I packed and we continued watching Shameless all morning. Melissa made a delicious breakfast scramble/hash, too. She is so good at whipping up something delicious without even trying! Todd, Rachel, and I were all on the same flight home in the afternoon so we picked them up and Brian and Melissa dropped us all off at the airport. It was a quiet ride; we were all exhausted. I was so sad when Brian and Melissa moved to Ohio because I think a part of me thought I would never see them again (insert “people always leave” pity party here) but saying goodbye was easier this time. They came to Houston, we had now visited them with plans to come back. I was confident we would stay in touch and therefore I did not need to be sad anymore!

We masked up and headed into the airport. Even though there was no security line, I still went through the TSA Pre-Check lane so I would not have to take off my shoes and do the whole song and dance to get through. I breezed through and then went to buy water, peanut butter M&Ms (because I clearly forgot how much crap I gave myself the night before about my weight…), and my Ohio keychain while Todd and Rachel made their way through security. We chatted about the weekend and I worked on gathering and organizing pictures from everyone from the tournament. I do not have Facebook and images resize if sent through text message so it was a whole process of getting people to use Google Drive or Dropbox but we all got there and made it happen. I am a freak about collecting pictures so I was really happy to get that taken care of.

It was a super short flight from Dayton to Ohio and I read the whole time. The flight attendant was super kind and encouraging about reminding people to continue wearing their masks. I thought she handled everything like a pro. we had a 45 minute layover in Chicago, only 30 minutes by the time we took a bathroom break and made it to our gate. We somehow managed to devour pizza and 2 rounds of drinks in that brief window before boarding the longer flight to Houston. I was in a different boarding group than them so I left them and boarded the plane.

I must have fallen asleep while we were taxiing because I did not remember taking off. I woke up 30 minutes into the flight and finished Garden State before reading my Kindle the rest of the way. The kid in front of me kept opening my window (which was very clearly in my row) and I felt challenged so I kept closing it. We eventually bonded; it was his first trip on a plane and he was excited. The kid chatted up the guy next to me, too. He was making friends left and right. I debated ordering a drink but when the other two people in my row ordered alcohol, I decided to go for it. Our row clearly was ready to rage. The wine was trash but what did I expect? We landed right on time at 6:30pm but waited awhile before we were at a gate. I turned my phone on and there was a sweet message from Melissa. Apparently, Fiona had asked where all her new friends had gone and was sad when she found out we left! Precious.

We made our way to the parking lot shuttles and said our goodbyes. We all see each other every Sunday so no long, emotional goodbye was necessary! It felt like it took a lifetime to get to my car and eventually to my Dad’s house to pick up Elliott. Everywhere was so busy for a Sunday night but I guess everyone was either getting home or trying to get home (logic courtesy of the new beau). I also got hit on by one of the guys I met at mud volleyball so that was something.

I was at my Dad’s for an hour, catching up with them. Elliott was actually happy to see me this time! He and I made it home just before 10pm. Whew! I was exhausted and happy to be home.

Covid has been a struggle so it was really nice to get away and spend time with some of my most favorite people, playing a sport we all initially bonded over years ago. I had a truly amazing weekend and cannot wait until we are all together again!


Until next time,

Jillian