Archive for November, 2010

What Really Matters

Monday, November 29th, 2010

This is a tricky time of year when it comes to the word “meaningful.”  For many of us, Thanksgiving serves as the gateway holiday into a six-week period of major ambivalence.  We think Rockwellian thoughts of hearth, home, and family.  And yet we run down our metaphorical batteries with errands and obligations that make us anything but happy.  We have idealized visions of what this time of year should be, but somehow our very attempts to realize those visions dismantle them, one ironic piece at a time. 

What is it about the pursuit of “what really matters” that causes us to sacrifice everything that really matters?  Why, in the name of family and togetherness, do we spend most of December fighting traffic in mall parking lots?  Why, in the name of homemade baked goods, do I sacrifice multiple leisurely evenings with my husband?  Why are we so prone to let the holiday season – which is marketed with rosy cheeks and roaring fires – turn into stress and drudgery?

As we sit down to make our list of New Year’s resolutions at some point during the upcoming month we inevitably take stock of ourselves – strengths and weaknesses alike – and earmark for improvement those things we wish were different.  And while I am a believer in this exercise, I think the timing is a bit inopportune.  On the one hand it allows us to indulge in the holiday season’s guilty pleasures with reckless abandon.  But on the other hand it also enables us to adopt the mindset of “just getting through” the holidays and thereby let them devolve into an empty shell of their actual purpose and potential. 

This year I’ve found myself with a rare and unexpected gift – some extra time.  Every December since we were married, GAP and I have thrown a Christmas party.  It has traditionally been the Saturday after GAP’s company party, and usually ends up being the week before Christmas.  But this year everything is shifted up a week, leaving me two full weeks before Christmas but after our party circuit winds down.  When I realized that this was the case I was initially flustered at the short turnaround time, but ultimately embraced it when I realized that two full weeks of decidedly lower-key holiday merriment would follow.

And so, in an effort not to destroy those two weeks of quietude with the side effects of procrastination, I am making some Holiday Resolutions for myself:

  1. I know what I need to get most of my recipients, and will take advantage of that fact by shopping now.
  2. I will shop online as much as possible to prevent unnecessary trips into jungle-caliber malls and shopping centers.  I will consider shipping fees a reasonable price for sanity.
  3. I will wrap presents as I buy them, not in one marathon session on December 23rd.   I will not wrap late at night.  And I will not wrap without a mug of hot chocolate or glass of red wine nearby.  (I love wrapping, but it’s easy for it to become a chore if I procrastinate and don’t take any care in setting a pleasant ambiance.)
  4. I will not worry about mailing holiday cards until after our party has been thrown. 
  5. I will not obligate myself to cook 85 different varieties of cookies for coworkers.

As with any goal, I don’t know how successful I will be.  But experience has shown me that I’ll come much closer to my ideal by the mere act of identifying goals.  I want this Christmas season to leave me room for what really matters.


Monday, November 22nd, 2010

At the risk of sounding trite, this is obviously an apt time to note the things for which I am thankful.  It is not an original idea, but it is an important one.  After all, for all the Ten Dollar Thoughts we may think, if none of them is grateful in nature, then all the others suffer for it. 

I will clarify up front that I am interminably thankful for all of the things that most people are thankful for: good jobs, a fine home, health, family, and friendships.  But to keep this post at least moderately interesting I will shift my focus to less likely (or at least less obvious) objects of my gratitude.

  1. I am thankful for my new camera.  It was a gift from GAP and IEP for Mother’s Day and it has re-energized my interest in photography.  I dabbled in photography a bit as a kid, but had fallen away from it over time.  With my new camera in my life I find myself looking at the world with a more artistic eye, and applying much greater appreciation to the lighting and composition of films and photos I see.
  2. I am thankful for hot chocolate.  Since I don’t drink coffee or tea, for much of the year my mornings typically lack a marquis beverage.  But when fall turns the corner into winter I have a big mug-full almost every morning.  IEP has adopted my habit of dipping his buttered toast into the chocolate and I love that we share our breakfasts this way.
  3. I am thankful for the large park near my office.  On days when I just have to get out of the building at lunch I can take the long way to my favorite sandwich shop and cut through the park.  The road that runs through it takes me past a large pond with a path where I watch people walking and jogging and getting fresh air, and through a densely wooded area that allows me to pretend – if just for half a mile or so – that I am out in the woods, as opposed to out in the suburbs.
  4. I am thankful for steam vaporizers.  When winter colds hit (as they did in full force the last two weeks), a steam vaporizer is one third of the cold-fighting trifecta (along with sleep and NyQuil) that usually gets me back on my feet within a couple of days.
  5. I am thankful for my favorite silver ballet flats.  They are comfortable.  They are attractive.  They match everything.  And when I realized how much I loved them I had the good sense to get back on Zappos and order a second pair so that when I inevitably wore out the first pair (a day that’s coming soon) there would be a backup pair waiting in the wings. 
  6. I am thankful for my church.  I’m thankful that I don’t always agree with the sermons and that I’m forced to confront the gaps in my understanding of my faith.  I’m thankful that when I go there I feel at peace.  And I’m thankful that even when I feel my spirit drifting from God I can let Him know, just by walking into the sanctuary, that I’m trying to work my way back.
  7. I am thankful for my dogs.  I am thankful that because they are large and our yard is small I am obliged to walk two miles with them every day.  In a year I walk an extra 600 miles or so (we skip a day here and there), which is exercise I almost certainly wouldn’t get without them.  (Not to mention that the dogs themselves are princes.)
  8. I am thankful for books.  I am thankful that my shelves are littered with titles I’ve read and loved, and titles that are waiting to be explored.  I’m thankful that every time I open a book I learn something new, and that in this country I have the opportunity and the right to read whatever I may choose.
  9. I am thankful for blogging.  This medium, which I’d never even heard of until a few years ago, allows me to keep my long-distance family apprised of IEP’s latest adventures and developments (I also write a private family blog).  And it allows me to explore my thoughts and engage in virtual conversation with interesting people every single week.  I believe that I approach my life in fundamentally different and better ways because of my blogging. 
  10. I am thankful for IEP’s hugs.  Truly, they are unparalleled.  He only hugs when he’s really feeling it.  And when he’s really feeling it he hugs big.  He squeezes his little arms with all his might.  He presses his plump cheek into yours and holds it there.  He giggles a little.  And then he does the entire thing three or four more times just to make sure he got his point across.  There’s nothing in the world quite like it. 

I would love to hear what things you are thankful for, be they the classics I mentioned at the top of this post or altogether different.  I believe that sharing our gratitude makes us more mindful of it ourselves.  I also think it offers a fresh and interesting glimpse into the essence of who we are.

With that, I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving holiday.  May you travel safely.  May you hug your family and friends.  May you eat well.  May you wear elastic waist pants.  May you have seconds on pie.  May you fall asleep on the couch.  And may you enjoy the rest of the weekend in whatever way pleases you most. 

PS – I won’t be posting on Wednesday or Friday this week.  See you back here next Monday.

Daydream Believer

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Hello?  Are you in there?  Are you paying attention?

Apparently, the answer to those questions, 46.9% of the time, is No.

According to a new study we spend nearly half of our waking hours steered by a wandering mind.  And what’s more, letting our minds wander makes us resoundingly unhappy. 

As I think about this premise in my own life, it rings true.  I let my mind wander a lot, but something about the aimlessness of it is actually unsatisfying.  When I look at my professional life I feel the best about myself and my career on days when I’m particularly engaged.  On those days I am more invested and more productive.  On those days I feel good about having spent a day in an office, running to and from meetings, and sorting through e-mails.  On days when I am disengaged I may go through all the same motions, but they lack meaning and significance.

What baffles me about this though, is that I’m still inclined to let my mind wander as it does.  Are my meetings really that much more interesting on “engaged” days than on “disengaged” days?  Likely not.  And if I know that I am happier when I am on task then why do I continue to let myself jot down grocery lists, Christmas gift ideas, and the color scheme of my future home when I know I should be paying attention to a colleague’s presentation?   

The article that first pointed me onto this topic goes on to tie the aforementioned study to mindfulness, which is a concept that has never really resonated with me (probably because the word itself gets the wind knocked out of it by my own pragmatism and disinclination toward anything new-agey).  But unhappiness is a word that gets my attention.  I certainly don’t want to be unhappy. 

[Everything from this point on is rooted in the statistical significance of a sample size of one: my own mind.  Proceed at your own risk.]

I wonder if we have such trouble staying engaged because we don’t give our minds a break.  We are constantly stimulated.  We are always within arm’s reach of a phone call, a television, a streaming video, a text message, or an e-mail.  We juggle home and professional commitments.  We use our down time to stimulate our minds further with various forms of entertainment.  When do our increasingly-taxed minds rest?

I am not here to advocate mental laziness (which would most certainly fly in the face of the very premise of this blog).  Rather, I wonder whether scheduling some mental downtime might make our overall level of engagement higher.  I read an essay in a fitness magazine a few years back by a marathoner who found that by taking one-minute walk breaks throughout the race he was able to quicken his overall pace.  If we schedule mental walk breaks – times that are earmarked for mental idleness, that are devoid of phone calls, e-mails, books, or conversation – mightn’t we be better positioned to stay actively engaged in our lives the rest of the time?

I haven’t the faintest idea if this little paradigm has merit.  But I aim to find out.

Time for a Change?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Before we get started, I want to thank all of you for your kind words and condolences in response to Monday’s post.  The loss of a horse isn’t exactly the most relatable experience in the world, and it means a great deal to me that you all offered your heartfelt support nonetheless.  Thank you so much for your virtual embrace.  It was warm and snuggly and just what I needed. 

If you could masquerade as someone else, would you do it?  If you could masquerade as a different version of yourself, would you do it?  What would it take for you to cast aside your existing notions of who you are and try on something else entirely?

I ask these questions because I recently had a conversation with a friend that traveled down this path.  My friend is single and nearing 40.  She confessed that she’d like to “have someone” when she turns 40 in a little more than a year.  This friend of mine is thoughtful, sincere, funny, and feisty.  I’ve long been amazed that some clever suitor didn’t snatch her up a long time ago.  But as we got to talking about it she confessed that she’s not good at meeting new people.  My friend, whom I’ve always found to be charming and outgoing, has a shy streak.

Interestingly, her shy streak develops a shy streak of its own when she travels.  She could strike up a conversation with anyone in a hotel bar, and easily chat over two or three drinks.  In these situations she knows she’ll never see her new friend again and abandons all traces of self-consciousness.  I asked her why she can’t behave the same way at home and she replied that she’s too worried that she’ll do or say something foolish and it will come back to haunt her (despite the fact that she lives in a huge city).

So I challenged her.  “What if you entered into a trial period?  What if you became your ‘travel self’ for a period of, say, 30 days?  Be as confident and unself-conscious as you would if you were in some other city and see what happens.  The measure of success isn’t whether or not you meet someone, but whether or not you regret having taken on this persona in your home town.”

As we talked more about it I wondered in what other ways this trial period could be applied.  Sure, it has limitations.  Someone who is inherently a class clown probably won’t turn into a wallflower, or vice versa.  But if there are aspects of ourselves that already exist, but lurk beneath the surface and need nurturing to really bloom, could we bring them out into the forefront of our personalities with a little nudging?  I say yes.  With a little honesty and a little gumption I think we can each find things we’d like to change about ourselves, but haven’t.

I’ll go first:  I want to be a person who goes shopping without an insurmountable magnetic pull toward cableknit sweaters.  I want to accesorize more boldly.  And I want to not worry about every purchase I make being “timeless.”  There are obviously more substantive changes you could make, but this is where I’m starting. 

So whom do you want to be?  What do you wish were different about yourself?  And would you be willing to try that person on for a month?  At the end of 30 days you could decide if this new version of yourself should stay or go.  In the meantime, you get to add a little adventure to your life.  Who’s in?

A Germ

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I am a germ.  IEP was kind enough to pass his cold along to GAP, who, in turn, was kind enough to pass it along to me.  So I’m a little behind the curve this week.  My Wednesday post will either go up later today or tomorrow.  So please check back.  Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

The Shape and Size of Loss

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Loss comes in all shapes and sizes.  It is most poignant and painful when it is shaped like a person – a parent, or spouse, or, God forbid, a child.  Sometimes it is shaped like a burning house, as happened recently to a friend of mine.  Sometimes it is shaped like an unemployment line, as has happened to thousands upon thousands of people in this country over the past few years.  And sometimes, as happened to me on Friday, it is shaped like a beautiful and spirited Palomino mare named Sundae Reason. 

The list of things you don’t know about me is long.  Today it gets just a bit shorter. 

Based on the pictures I’ve seen, I think I was about three years old the first time I sat on a horse.  It was five years later that I started taking lessons.  My mother used masking tape to tighten my jeans at the ankle so that they would slide down into my tall riding boots.  I used a borrowed helmet and rode for hours on my instructor’s horse.  At the beginning I rode in circles attached to a longe line with my arms free.  I learned to evenly distribute my weight between my seat and my heels, keeping my arms distracted with circular motions overhead.  Eventually I was given the reins and learned the importance of soft hands, the difference between direct reining and neck reining, and how to use hand and leg cues in concert.

I started showing at 12 and rode two lovely geldings for a year or so.  Then, when it became evident that my abilities warranted more rigorous training my parents supported my transition to a new trainer located closer to our house so that I could ride daily, rather than weekly.  That transition included the sale of one of the geldings, and the purchase of a mare, boarded by my new trainer, whom I’d been riding on a trial basis for several weeks. 

Sundae Reason was pale golden in color with a white star that narrowed into a very slim blaze.  She was athletic and temperamental, much like I was.  And she didn’t take easily to new riders, making the relationship that we would build together critical to our success in the ring.  Every day after school my mother drove me to the barn and dropped me off.  And every evening after work my dad would pick me up.  In the three hours that passed in between, I rode.  Sundae and I did rail work, pattern work, ground work, and jumped.  We worked to ease her naturally quick-paced gaits.  We worked to figure each other out and learn each other’s cues.

In that time a number of things happened.  I became a much more talented rider and a fiercer competitor, but I also learned how to be alone.  Many days I had lessons with my trainer, but many days Sundae and I were the only ones in the arena.  I was intensely focused on my riding, but also aware of my solitude.  In a strange and almost completely silent way, we kept each other company.

When I was 15 or 16 I made the decision (which, even today, I’m not sure was the right one) to stop riding.  I wanted a “normal” high school experience with “normal” high school memories.  I wanted to go to football games on Friday nights, dance in the chorus line in high school musicals, go on Spring Break trips with friends, and attend Prom and Homecoming dances.  We sold Sundae Reason back to her previous owner and I cried and cried as I handed over her lead rope.

That might have been the end of the story, but nearly 10 years later, when I was 24, I had a dream about Sundae.  It came out of nowhere and I woke up worried about her.  I called my dad and asked him to get in touch with the woman we’d sold her to in order to find out if she still owned Sundae, and if so how she was.  She did.  And Sundae was fine, but was being boarded and was not being ridden.  After tiptoeing through a couple of phone calls with her owner my dad discovered that there was an opportunity to buy Sundae back.  My parents have a country home about an hour outside of town, where Sundae would be given more attention, exercise, and care.  And so we jumped on it. 

For the past nine years my old show horse has lived out her retirement years on my parents’ farm.  I rode her every time I went home.  She didn’t have quite the same fire she had in her younger years, but she was still my girl.  We each fell back into our old rhythms easily, as old friends do.  It makes me sad to think about it, but I don’t remember the last time I rode her.  It was before I got pregnant with IEP, and by the time he was born she was just too old.  But I still called her in from the pasture for a hug and a brushing every time I was there.  

A week or so ago she had a close call with colic.  And on Friday a man who works at the farm found her lying down in a shelter.  He covered her with a blanket and called the vet, who determined that there was nothing to do.  I was hoping she’d make it to Thanksgiving, but it would have been unfair to ask her to go on any longer.  She is buried on a hill, under a tree on the South side of the sheep meadow.  And when I go home in ten days I will say my last goodbye.           

Loss is a strange thing.  It comes in all shapes and sizes.  This time it was shaped like my beautiful girl.

IEP meeting Sundae Reason, October 2009

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood

Friday, November 12th, 2010

It’s been a long week, folks. 

It started at 4:45am Sunday when I got out of bed to catch a 6:30 flight to New York.  I spent two days there, and three in Chicago.  In that time I had brunch with a cousin I hadn’t seen since 2004, saw a marvelous and moving (if topically difficult) Broadway show, and had a lovely dinner with a lovely friend.  In that time there was a bomb scare on Chicago’s blue train line which closed the highway above it that connects the airport to downtown, leaving me in a taxi for an hour and a half as we tried to make our way from Point A to Point B on the city streets.  In that time IEP came down with a bad cough which sent him to the pediatrician and then the hospital and then home (GAP earned his stripes this week!).  In that time I had another lovely dinner with another lovely friend.  And in that time I sat through four days’ worth of conference lectures which left my brain swamped and my sciatic nerve annoyed.

While the week was not without perks, I am nevertheless very glad to be home.

Before I left town I began contemplating this post.  I started thinking about the people in our neighborhood who are regular, if peripheral, fixtures in our lives.  I thought about how I look forward to seeing their faces each morning when IEP and I head out to walk our dogs.  And I thought about how that familiarity is a big part of what makes “home” home.  Now, after the long and draining week I’ve had, I come back to this post with renewed fervor, because home has never looked so good!

So, these people.  The people in my neighborhood.  The people that you meet / When you’re walking down the street / The people that you meet each day!  (Thank you, Sesame Street!)  There is something about the people we see each morning that brightens my day.  I look forward to their smiling faces and cordial inquiries.  But curiously, I know few of their names.  These are not my next-door or across-the-street neighbors (whose names I do know), but people who live within a walking radius of our house and whose routines also take them outside early in the morning.  Interestingly, most of our relationships with these neighbors are built upon IEP’s unflappable fondness for waving.

IEP is very friendly and loves people.  He especially loves saying hi to people on the street.  And so each day, as we head out into the morning IEP leads the way in his perky red stroller and I follow behind flanked by Bernese Mountain Dogs.  I’ve been walking the same two-mile loop in our neighborhood for four years, and while the dogs are good calling cards for meeting people, they don’t hold a candle to my son.  They are striking, but he is impossible to ignore… 

He has an uncanny ability to spot a figure on our horizon.  And as soon as he does he starts waving.  Sometimes the person is two or three blocks in front of us and has no idea they are being rude to my son.   But when they eventually get within 20 or 30 yards of us his flailing arm becomes obvious and he doesn’t rest until the other person waves back.  And they always wave back.  There is something about a big smile and furious waving from a toddler that even the biggest curmudgeon can’t ignore. 

My favorite moments each day come from the people who actually look forward to IEP’s morning greetings.  They too spot him at a distance and begin to wave back rivaling his eagerness and energy.  Sometimes we stop and chat – about weather, about the dogs, about how IEP is suddenly enormous these days – and sometimes not.  No matter, I am always heartened to know that there are people in my neighborhood who enjoy seeing us; who have been known to retrieve lost sippy cups; who would let us in if we ever got caught out in a storm; and who share my soft spot for a little boy with a giant wave.  All these people add up to a community, and the feeling of community is a good feeling to have.

These are the people in my neighborhood.  And after a week’s worth of strangers they make me especially happy to be home.

Relocating and Loss

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

GAP and I had a little disagreement the other day.  It was a very little disagreement, but it piqued my curiosity about other perspectives and so I thought I’d take your temperature on the topic.

We were talking about moving.  Moving as in “from one-house/city to another.”  Not moving as in “put your left hand in, put your left hand out, put your left hand in and shake it all about.”  (If we’d been speaking Spanish it would have been mudarse versus moverse.  But I digress.)  My sister just moved into a new house, which sent us down this little philosophical path.

I said that I think moving is fundamentally sad.  Not exclusively sad, but fundamentally sad.  GAP disagreed.  I opined that even if you are moving for good reasons – a new baby is on the way, you got a big promotion and are being transferred, you are living in an oppressed country and finally have your ticket out – there is still implicit sadness in moving.  My basis for this is that any time we move we experience some element of loss.  We are leaving a part of our lives behind.  And walking away from some fleeting aspect of our lives or some version of ourselves is always sad. 

This isn’t to say that moving isn’t also frequently overwhelmingly joyful.  My point is not that the sadness is predominant, but that it is omnipresent.  Perhaps it is just a drop in a bigger wave of other emotions, but it is always there in some quantity.

Every time I have moved I have felt sadness.  Every time I have moved there has been a happy occasion prompting it.  (I’m very fortunate.)  And yet a certain pang has always grazed my insides as I reconciled myself to the fact that something that was true about my life no longer is.  

Is it possible to transition from one phase of life to the next with no feeling of loss?  Is it possible to leave something behind – even something imperfect or painful – without any sadness?  Is moving always implicitly sad?  Even if imperceptibly so?  And if it is imperceptibly sad does the sadness still exist?

I say yes.  But perhaps you disagree?  Enlighten me.

Finding the Funny

Monday, November 8th, 2010

For the most part I have found that the funniest parenting stories come from the children; anecdotes in the Art Linkletter vein of kids’ quirky-but-accurate observations of the world.  However, from time to time you come across a parent whose approach to the imperfect art of raising children is so brilliantly injected with humor that you can’t help but laugh at their genuine appreciation for the sometimes-absurd nature of this journey.  And so it is that today I bring you the story of our friend J, and the demise of Milo McSpikerton.

I do not know what originally led to the adoption of Milo McSpikerton, but by some series of events (which I have no choice but to assume is similarly amusing) our friend J and his wife agreed to the acquisition of a hedgehog for their two young boys.  But agree they did, and for the next two years Milo lived happily in a cage in their family room.  Fresh cedar shavings, a spouted water bottle, and two boys who had been taught to be gentle with the naturally fearful creature kept young Milo well provided for and content.

Then, a few weeks ago J and his wife noticed that Milo was unusually still.  Really still.  That kind of still.  Poor Milo was gone.  The cause of death is still unknown.  And Milo McSpikerton was summarily laid to rest in a field behind the family home.  J created a tongue-in-cheek memorial PowerPoint presentation that acknowledged the passing of the family hedgehog, which commemorated the life cut tragically short. 

I’d not thought much about Milo since the news of his passing first came to me.  Then on Saturday as we drove home from the gym GAP told me that Milo had sent the boys a letter.

“From beyond the grave?” I asked incredulously.  “Isn’t that a little spooky for kids so young?”  (J’s boys are about three and six.)

“Oh, they don’t know he’s beyond the grave,” GAP responded.

“Then what do they think happened to him?” I asked back.

“J told the boys that Milo’s parents were getting up there in age and had asked their son to come home and help out around the house a little bit.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No.  Originally Milo was just going to be gone a few weeks, but apparently his mom’s hip is giving her a lot of trouble and she needs him to move back in permanently.”

“Hedgehogs have hip problems later in life, do they?”

“Apprently.  So Milo sent the boys a letter explaining that his stay had to be extended indefinitely, but that he had found someone else to keep them company while he’s away.”

“Another hedgehog?”

“No, they got a dog.  It’s a Morkipoo.”  (Which I can only assume is a Maltese/Yorkie/Poodle cross.)  “Not much bigger than a hedgehog, actually.  The boys named him Hiccup.”

Yes.  Hiccup.  I couldn’t make this stuff up.

The End.

And that, my friends, is the story of how Milo McSpikerton went home to help his parents around the house, how his stay was extended due to his mother’s ailing hip, and how Hiccup the Morkipoo was sent as a replacement. 

The whole affair made me laugh hard.  I know that on the parenting path that stretches out in front of me there will be hamsters and lizards and critters of all stripes, fish funerals, and difficult conversations about where we go when we die and where babies come from.  But amidst all of our earnest attempts not to screw up our kids with too much truth, as parents we are blessed with the liberty to insert a few lies here and there.  And I have a real appreciation for J’s ability to find the opportunities to amuse himself (and the rest of us) in the process.  If raising children requires anything it requires a sense of humor.  We must find the funny in ourselves as much as we find it in our kids.  Otherwise a dead hedgehog is just a dead hedgehog, and that’s no fun for anybody.

Travel Top 7

Friday, November 5th, 2010

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week thinking about travel.  Throughout our visit to Washington, DC last weekend I was reminded of why I love to travel as much as I do.  And as I’ve reflected back on the trip over the course of the past few days I have been further energized about other trips that are on our horizon.  In that vein, I’ve compiled a brief list of the things I love most about traveling that I felt compelled to share.

  1. Getting away.  This sounds obvious, but I think it’s worth stating anyway.  There is something so cathartic about being away from your normal routine; leaving behind to-do lists, chores, schedules, and other obligations.  When a friend of mine returned from her honeymoon a couple of years ago she had become so mentally disengaged from her regular life that upon returning she couldn’t remember any of her computer passwords at work and they all had to be reset.  That is getting away!
  2. Going with the flow.  Travel requires flexibility of all stripes and being thrust into sometimes-unpredictable circumstances is really good for me.  I also like traveling with IEP for this reason.  When we are home I am intensely protective of his schedule and routine, but I also think it’s important that he is, from time to time, forced to adapt to something different. 
  3. The locals.  During our trip we chatted with a cabbie who landed in DC after the Korean War, worked for the Labor Department for a number of years, and now drives around the city waxing philosophic about the location of the bike lanes.  You really get the flavor of a place by talking to the people who live there.
  4. Walking, walking, walking.  GAP and I are big walkers.  We take subways when it makes sense, but only rarely take taxis (#3 notwithstanding).  By walking we’ve found churches that weren’t on Rome’s maps, funky bodegas in Brooklyn, and made an inadvertent trip through the GWU campus in DC.  (This also enables a great deal of eating, eating, eating, which leads me to…) 
  5. Regional food.  I ate more lobster, crab, and oysters last weekend than I have in ages.  In Italy I ate almost nothing besides pasta, gnocchi, and gelato (with the odd salad thrown in) for two weeks.  In Switzerland we dipped things into melted cheese over and over and over.  What a treat it is to eat authentic food in its original home.
  6. Different points of view.  This one is most notable overseas.  I’m always fascinated to find out what people’s perception of America is.  I love learning what people think of their own countries, what they like and what they don’t.  And of course cultural differences are fascinating to me as well.
  7. Coming home.  My own bed.  My dogs.  My kitchen.  My friends.  And (if he wasn’t with us) my son!  Home is a wonderful thing, and, I believe, becomes even more so when we’ve seen other corners of the world and after a time are ready to return to the comforts of the familiar.