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Thoughts from La Jolla

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Thank you all for your kind congratulations on my little announcement on Monday.  It is an exciting time in the life of our family and I was likewise excited to share it with you.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond to your comments as they were written.  I was in the air most of Monday, making my way to the San Diego area for work.  As you can see from the photo below (taken from my hotel room), it’s miserable here.

Paradise aside, this trip has gotten me thinking about the blessings and curses of business travel.  Here I am with enjoying an unparalleled climate, laughs and meals with coworkers, and the luxury of sleeping past 6:00.  And yet at the same time my thoughts drift toward home – toward my husband and my son, both of whom I miss deeply, and toward the tornado-riddled Midwest.

In the midst of these thoughts there is another thought that courses through my head – a thought I have some measure of guilt about: Why can’t I be from here?  Of course, we could move here if we wanted to.  But we can’t move our families and we can’t move our roots.  They are in the Midwest and there’s nothing I can do about that.  There are  many things about the Midwest that I find maddening.  The cold, icy winters and the hot, humid summers.  The politics.  The lack of emphasis on arts.  The poor air quality and the poor public schools.  And yet, the Midwest is where we’re from.  It is home.

I don’t know if we’ll always live in the Midwest.  And in the midst of trips like this, it becomes very easy to imagine a life someplace else.  As avid and eager travelers, GAP and I debate this conundrum often.  We love our life as it is, but we love to imagine our life as it might be in some other place.  We think of all that we would gain, and of all that we would lose.

And this brings me back to my original thought – why can’t we just be from here?  It would make things so much easier.

Hot Cross Buns

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

My mother made Hot Cross Buns on every Good Friday of my childhood.  And while I have lovely memories of coming home from school to find a fresh batch on the kitchen counter (sometimes with extra frosting left in the bowl!) my favorite Hot Cross Bun memory comes from my adulthood, and from China.  This story is not meant to be thought-provoking or challenging in any way.  Rather it is a cherished moment of my life that I felt inspired to share. 

If you’re not familiar with Hot Cross Buns, you can learn a quick bit about them here.

I was 26 years old.  I was less than a month away from my wedding.  I was in Shanghai in the middle of a two-week business trip to my company’s Japan and China offices.  So things in my life were pretty calm at the time.  Right.

I’d spent the first week of the trip in Japan.  Sushi, tempura, industry trade show – all the usual suspects.  The second week took us to Shanghai for a 5-day training session with our Pac Rim distributors.  We were staying at the St. Regis hotel which was then, and is still, the most mind-bogglingly luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  I had a personal butler assigned to me at check-in.  The room was huge and stunning; the bathroom even more so.  Every time I left my room – even if it was just to run down to the hotel gym for a quick workout – someone came in and refolded the towels, tidied my toiletries, smoothed the duvet, and tucked under the corners of the toilet paper.  And every afternoon around 2:00 a snack was delivered to my room on a silver tray.  It was usually a pastry of some kind.  Something delectable that made me slide to the floor and want to never return home.  (What wedding?  GAP once lived in China.  Surely I could find a back-up version of him running around somewhere, right?)

I spent each day in a hotel ballroom, giving presentations on the key selling points of my company’s products, changes to the competitive landscape, and pricing and discount structures.  I’d eaten all of the local fare that was served and had, for the most part, been delighted by how much I loved it.  Cuttlefish, jellyfish, whole roasted fish, seaweed salad, etc.  Business dinners each evening featured dishes that rotated among the traditional menus of our distributors’ home countries – Thai, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia.  I was lost in an international smorgasbord.   

I’d gone sight-seeing with a colleague one afternoon and eaten dumplings purchased from a street vendor that have never been matched by any I’ve eaten since.  The bread was fried crisp on the outside and chewy underneath.  The broth inside was rich, salty, and surprisingly hot.  It dripped all the way down my forearms and I actually licked some of it off.  The bite of pork in the middle was tender and fatty and melted on my tongue.  I was in a food nirvana.   

I was also reaching a saturation point of visual stimulation.  Ancient gardens, Confucian temples, giant Buddhas everywhere.  My colleague and I had a personal local tour guide for two days who took us into nooks and crannies of her city that we’d never have found (or braved) on our own.  I was absorbing the culture around me like a parched sponge.  I had moments of homesickness, but for the most part I’d been able to separate myself from the impending wedding and gotten lost in the world around me.  And so it was that when Good Friday rolled around at the end of my trip I was barely aware of it.

That day our business agenda reached its scheduled afternoon break.  I returned to my room upstairs where I looked forward to slipping out of my heels, collapsing onto the fluffy bed, and delicately tearing into whatever scone, éclair, or other confection might be awaiting me.  I opened the door, walked into that now-familiar and serene retreat of a room, and stopped cold.  There, on the silver tray, was a porcelain plate with two Hot Cross Buns. 

They were beautiful.  Golden dough glazed with egg whites and studded with raisins.  Iced by hand with careful, but not perfect, crosses.  I was so touched by the gesture that I almost couldn’t bring myself to eat them.  But I did.  They lacked the delicate crumb and subtle sweetness of my mother’s, but it was irrelevant.  I was as far away from home – geographically, culturally, metaphorically – as I’d ever been.  And yet a hallmark of my childhood sat before me on a silver tray.

I still don’t know the answers to all the questions that spun through my head as I ate my Hot Cross Buns.  How did they know these tiny details of Christian culinary heritage?  Did they know I was a Christian?  Did everyone in the hotel get Hot Cross Buns for their snack that day?  Or was it just for the Westerners whom they thought might enjoy a taste of home.  Did they have any idea how their thoughtfulness would strike deep to the heart of me?

Since I’d left home after college I’d never made Hot Cross Buns of my own.  I guess I didn’t realize what meaning they held for me.  But in that moment I became keenly aware of their significance; significance to which I’d been heretofore oblivious.  The next year I made my first batch of Hot Cross Buns.  Neither did they measure up to my mother’s, but they were good.  And they were mine.  And it felt good to take my traditions into my own hands.  I have plenty of time to perfect my technique.

I haven’t made them every year.  But I will make them this year.  I think IEP would like them very much.  And I want his memories of them to be as ingrained as my own.

*This post was originally published on Good Friday last year.  I loved it then and thought it worth recycling this year.

A Pleasant Surprise

Friday, February 25th, 2011

I have many more substantial thoughts on my mind – post topics I’ve been mulling for days, and was looking forward to exploring on yesterday’s flight home.  But my 36-hour bout of flu, powering through a day’s worth of conference lectures in the midst of it, and rallying to get myself home have left me spent.  Mentally.  Emotionally.  Physically.  So instead of raising meaty and challenging questions, I will tell you a story.

I woke up yesterday feeling better.  Not great.  But better.  I napped long and hard Wednesday afternoon.  I went to bed at 8:30 Wednesday evening.  My fever finally broke overnight.  And by Thursday morning I felt like a recognizable version of myself.

The rest of yesterday morning was reasonably smooth.  The drive from Burbank to LAX was slow, but uneventful.  I listened to a Beethoven piano sonata, a suite from Carmen, and an early Mozart symphony as I drove and they kept me calm.  I returned the rental car without incident.  I checked in for my flight without incident.

Then things took a bit of a turn.  The line at security was short, but circuitous and poorly organized. The TSA agents were not re-stocking the bins as quickly as needed.  So I put my bags down, pilfered some bins from another stack, and went to recollect my things.  As I grabbed the handle of my bag and lifted it slipped out of my hand.  My thumbnail tore down to the skin, my breath caught in my throat, and I gave the final performance of my decreasingly brave face in order to get myself through TSA’s lock and key.

Safely into my concourse I dug into my bag for a nail file.  And as I filed the jagged edge away, the tears came.  I wasn’t crying over a broken nail.  I was crying over three days of illness, frustration, loneliness, and stress.  The broken nail was merely a trigger.  I let myself cry.  After a few moments I collected myself enough to get to a restroom.  A tissue and a splash of water helped a bit.

Back in the concourse I looked for lunch options.  There was nothing appealing to a girl coming off the stomach flu.  I grimaced at my options and chose the least of the evils.  I called my mother as I waited for a mediocre bowl of soup and lamented myself a bit more.  She listened affectionately.

I left the restaurant to find my gate.  The concourse was familiar to me.  Last summer on our way home from San Diego GAP, IEP, and I were stuck in that concourse for six or seven hours as we dealt with delayed and canceled flights.  I looked at the empty gate where we’d played tag with IEP to keep him occupied.  I peered into the gift shop where we’d played with toy cars.  I sat one table away from the spot where we’d let him sleep through lunch, only to later regret not having woken him to eat.  It was like some kind of cruel joke.  All I wanted in the world was to be home with my family and I was taunted with vivid reminders of them at every turn.

I found my gate.  I stared at the people around me, wondering if they were headed to or away from home.  I wondered why some were frowning.  I wondered if small pairs and trios were professional colleagues or friends.  But mostly I just sat still.  And then I heard it.

Strumming.  Flamenco.  It was soft and rippling.  It was delicate but rich.  Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” played over the speakers, but I tuned her out.  I sat up in my chair, looked around, and there, in another cluster of chairs, I saw him.  A young white man in his twenties with tousled curly hair wearing a bright orange fleece moved his fingers deftly.  I stood up and, as inconspicuously as possible, moved closer.  From my new location I watched him play, half-focused, as he chatted up the guy sitting next to him.

My shoulders relaxed.  My blood pressure dropped.  For the first time in two days, I smiled.  His music bounced around the gate.  The people near me watched him and also smiled.  The two men sitting next to me talked about a daughter’s semester abroad in Spain.  I thought of my own semester abroad in Spain.  I felt thankful.  I felt even a little bit happy.  It was a real gift.

Years and years ago in the midst of a sort-of-stressful international vacation my mother reached the end of her rope.  Over a plate of smoked fish in Edinburgh she teared up and said, “I just want a pleasant surprise.”  The saying stuck, and has become a standby in my family’s lexicon.  I called my mother again from the gate.  “Mom, I got my pleasant surprise.”

As our flight began to board the guitar player returned his instrument to its case.  I stood up – plausibly to prepare to board – and walked past him.  I wanted to tell him that listening to him play was the first good thing that had happened to me since Tuesday.  I wanted to tell him he was a sorely needed bright spot in an otherwise dimly lit week.  I wanted to tell him that I would remember this moment for a very long time.

But that would have been really weird.

“It was a real pleasure listening to you play,” I said as I walked by.  And that was it.

The thing abut the pleasant surprise is that it is almost always small.  Perhaps this is because it almost always comes in a moment when the bar is set rather low.  Nevertheless, it is small, unexpected, and simple.  But its effect is profound.

PS – Thank you for all of your kind “get well” wishes on Wednesday.  I’m not quite 100% now, but I’m doing much, much better.  Being home certainly helps.

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.

Blistered Feet and a Full Heart

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

We flew into Reagan.  As the plane began its final descent I could first see the Washington Monument.  Then the Capitol.  Then the Lincoln Memorial.  Then the Jefferson.  And then, just as we veered right toward the runway I caught a sliver of a glimpse of The White House.  I pointed.  I oohed and aahed.  I acted like a kid on a field trip.  Truth be told… I totally geeked out. 

In four days we took in a lot of territory.  We saw the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery, The White House, the Library of Congress, the World War II, Lincoln, Vietnam War, Korean War, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials, the National Cathedral, Georgetown, the Holocaust Museum, the Stewart/Colbert rally, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, and Arlington National Cemetery.

By the end of the trip my feet were blistered and my mind and heart were full.  And while I’m sure I could wax philosophic about the grandeur and significance of our nation’s capitol, there were two small moments that, for me, most aptly captured the essence of our country.  So, with that in mind, here are the two stories of those two moments.

The Sunset

After we left the rally GAP and I made a pass through Museum of American History.  We left the museum as it was closing at 5:30 and decided to go back by the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials in daylight.  (We had seen them once late at night, but I wanted to find a name on the wall that I missed in the dark.)  We walked back through both and had started to turn north to head back to our hotel for a breather before dinner. 

For no apparent reason I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a brilliant orange and pink sunset forming on the horizon.  I tried to take a couple of pictures but my view was blocked by a traffic light.  GAP asked if I wanted to go back to the Lincoln Memorial and take pictures from the back of it.  Genius!  We hustled up the steps, past the many post-rally-ers, and around to the back so that I could capture the sunset before the light faded.  While I fiddled with my shutter speed GAP sat down to wait for me.  And when I finished I joined him. 

With my photo flurry behind me I down-shifted a couple of gears.  I took a deep breath.  My shoulders relaxed.  And I looked around.  There were probably 20 of us back there, scattered across the back of the memorial, just sitting.  There were a few small groups, one or two other couples, and a few people by themselves.  Everyone was still.  No one talked much.  And we all watched the deeply colored orange light fade to pink, and then purple, and then grey.  As I looked around at my fellows sunset watchers I thought, “We live in a country where we are permitted to crawl all over our national monuments.  We are allowed to come here and commune in whatever manner best suits us.  We are welcome here day and night.  We are welcome in groups or alone.  We are welcome to come and learn, or to come and watch the sun set.”  I felt so privileged in that moment, to be a citizen of a country whose most precious treasures are not kept behind gates or fences.  There are no admission fees or invitations.  All that is needed is the desire to be there, and you are welcome to do so, in nearly any way that pleases you.

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The Marine Corps Marathon

I had it in my head that Sunday morning would be a peaceful time to visit Arlington National Cemetery.  On any other Sunday I think I might have been right.  On this particular Sunday I neglected to account for the fact that the Marine Corps Marathon finish line was stationed adjacent to the cemetery at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial statue.  It was a little bit of a zoo.  However, the chaos was a blessing in disguise. 

After having breakfast with a dear friend in Rosslyn, GAP and I took one look at the Rosslyn metro station (packed to the gills with 10K race finishers) and decided to walk to the cemetery entrance.  We meandered through the orange event fencing and eventually reached the finish line.  We arrived just in time to hear the winner announced over the loudspeaker, and to watch the 3rd through 10th place finishers run the last quarter mile of the race. 

The runners were dog tired.  The final lengths of the course were steep uphill.  Scattered amongst the runners were a few three-wheeled cycles ridden by handicapped entrants.  That final hill was especially brutal for them.   The path was lined two and three people deep with fans.  And the grounds were teeming with uniformed Marines. 

On the back side of the finish line I saw a runner who’d just completed his race.  His limbs were long and sinewy (as most marathoners’ are).  His shoulders drooped, his knees were buckled, and he was supported on either side by two, giant, hulking Marines.  As I watched this trio of men – two incredibly strong, and one incredibly weak – slowly walk to the First Aid tent I started to cry.  Yes, it was an exhausted athlete at the end of 26.2 miles rather than the victim of a Middle Eastern roadside bomb.  Nevertheless, I watched these highly trained men do one of the very things it is their job to do: help people.  Just as I’ve seen images of service men and women cradling injured victims in some of the most blighted corners of the world, so did I watch these Marines take the same care with this man.  Seeing such tenderness out of such men whom I know can also deliver such force moved me in a way that was both surprising and undeniable. 

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While I love my country, as a rule I am not inclined to believe that it is better than any other merely because it is mine.  Nonetheless, this trip left me saturated with both pride and gratitude.

A Little Getaway

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Did you miss me on Friday?  I meant to send you a  postcard, but I was afraid it wouldn’t get to you in time.  So I decided to just touch base when I got back.  You see, I was very busy at the end of last week. 

I was here…

The White House

And here…

The Capitol

And here…

Library of Congress

And here…

Lincoln Memorial

And here…

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

And here…

National Cathedral

And here…

Rally to Restore Sanity

And here…

Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian

And, of course, here…

Arlington National Cemetary

It was my first trip to Washington, DC, and the entire experience was amazing, overwhelming, moving, thought-provoking, touching, and altogether wonderful.  I’m still digesting the whole thing and will come back to you with more fully formed thoughts on Wednesday.  In the meantime I wanted to share a few of my photos with you.  You know, since I didn’t send a postcard. 

 Happy Monday everyone!

Setting Sail

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

What do you value more in your life: Experiences or belongings?  Adventures or routine?  New and different or known quantities? 

When we’re speaking abstractly it’s easy to say that we care more about having great experiences in life; that we aren’t attached to our belongings; and that we are always up for something new.  It’s quite another thing to live out those statements for seven years on a sailboat with your family. 

That’s right.  I said seven years on a sailboat with your family. 

The Crafton family, whom I find simultaneously inspiring and full-throttle bonkers did just that, and apparently they’d do it again.  The nuts and bolts of their story go something like this:

  • Family of five decides to ditch everything (literally – homes, careers, property, cars, etc), buy a boat, and sail the world.
  • Two of the kids had speech delays which were better addressed without typical peer pressure.
  • Everyone got along better without the distractions of material belongings and adolescent angst.
  • They stayed on the water for seven years and only returned when it was time for one of the kids to start college.
  • They don’t regret a moment of it.

As I read the article about their experience a strong sense of ambivalence hovered over me.  I love the idea of giving it all up in favor of a life un-tethered by convention.  Yet in the same moment I felt intensely protective of those same conventions.  However would I survive without Bobbi Brown face wash, or my KitchenAid mixer, or my king size bed?  How would I incorporate some of my favorite things into a life on the open sea?  Could I get satellite internet service?  How many books would I need to pack?  How would I manage to log four workouts per week? 

Then I kicked myself.  I realized that the purpose of a decision like this is absolutely NOT to create a portable version of your existing life.  The purpose of a decision like this is to turn away from your existing life and take on a life that looks entirely different.  And doing that means giving up things that may mean a great deal to you.  Fresh herbs, air conditioning, a social life, and countless creature comforts would be left behind on purpose.  (Also little things like scalloped tomatoes, television reruns, and flirty nightgowns.) 

And that scares the bejeezus out of me.

By why?  Why do I cling to these things so fiercely?  What do I think will happen to me in their absence?  Will I become unhappy?  Do I measure myself in some way against these benchmarks of convention?  Would I completely lose sight of myself and my priorities in the absence of typical guideposts?  And most importantly, if any of these things is true, what on earth does that say about me? 

I know that I am more than my home, car, wardrobe, and hobbies.  But if that is true, then shouldn’t I be willing to let any of them go?  I don’t necessarily think so, but I can’t place my finger on why. 

PS – As a completely unrelated aside, this is my one hundredth post.  I can hardly believe that after just seven months of blogging I’ve reached an actual milestone.  Thanks for reading and commenting and being a part of these little mental exercises of mine.

Vacationing in Pencil

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Today’s post goes out to my sister Anne, whose practical blog Life in Pencil has been telling me for more than a year now about the merits of letting ourselves evolve organically and embracing life’s unforeseen changes. 

Since we got married six years ago, GAP and I have had an every-other-year approach to vacation planning.  Even numbered years were international trips.  Odd numbered years were domestic trips.  In that time we’ve covered Hawaii, Cardinals Spring Training, Maine, San Francisco, New York (3 times), Italy, Cancun, Switzerland, and the Pacific Northwest.  We love to travel and both get heavily invested in planning and experiencing each trip we take. 

This year’s trip (even numbered year = international destination) was to have been Ireland and Scotland.  We were going to go in the fall.  The British countryside would be lush and cool.  The pubs would be jovial.  The castles would be ancient.  And the beers would be room temperature.  (You can’t win them all.)  Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men… 

GAP and I have spent the better part of the last six months commenting to each other that we really need to have the house tuckpointed.  We have a bit of plaster damage in two rooms and before it becomes any more unsightly or irksome than it already is the exterior bricks need to be replaced and sealed.  To add insult to crumbly plaster, we also need a new roof.  Being responsible consumers as we are, we’ve gotten several bids for each set of work and the results are in.  The verdict?  Expensive. 

As the bids trickled in over the past few weeks we slowly began reconciling ourselves to the fact that our UK trip should probably be postponed.  Fast forward to last Thursday and GAP dreams up the idea of a four-day trip to the coast as a substitute.  I was delighted at the thought of a getaway and gave him the go-ahead to start scouting around online. 

Fast forward again to today and I’m so excited at what we’ve cooked up that I’m already over the disappointment of kissing our original plans goodbye.  Later this summer we will fly to San Diego for four days of the zoo, Sea World, the beach, and what I expect to be outstanding Mexican food.  Not only that, but we will be joined by some of our dearest friends (whom we haven’t seen in a year and who have had their first baby in that time).  Further still, in a stroke of brilliant happenstance, GAP’s sister and her family will be there at the same time and the entire lot of us is planning a collective day at the beach.  I’m so excited I can hardly sit still!

If life always played out as planned we would not have to deal with such headaches as home repairs and resource constraints.  But as we accepted and then embraced each of those fates we’ve ended up with plans that might actually be better.  (Kudos primarily go to GAP – it was his idea in the first place and he transformed it from whim to reality in less than 48 hours.)  Not to mention the fact that the unexpected nature of these plans makes them even sweeter.

As Anne and her blogging partner Elizabeth have so eloquently explained on their site,

Life is a series of revisions.  As soon as we think we have it all figured out, life reminds us that nothing is permanent, and we have to be willing to rewrite our plans.  And it’s this unpredictability that makes life exciting, novel, and, yes, messy.   Life requires flexibility, ingenuity, and acceptance, because there is no “final draft”.  We’re in a constant state of rewriting our lives.

Apparently, after reading their words for the past year the message has finally sunk in.  Perhaps I should allow my plans to get roiled more often.  At least in this case, I must say I rather like the results.

The Sum of My Parts

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I write to you today from the desert valley of Nevada.  I am in Las Vegas for the first time in nine years, attending a conference for work.  I arrived on Wednesday and have quickly remembered all of the things I love and don’t love about this city. 

The food is astounding (especially on my company’s dime), the shows are phenomenal, and the entire place is a grownup’s playground.  On the flip side of the coin, it’s 400 degrees outside, I’ve smelled like cigarette smoke for three days now, and the environmentalist within me can’t help but feel guilty for contributing to the continued existence of a city that, quite frankly shouldn’t exist.  (Pardon me while I silently channel my mother and get all hot and bothered (understandably, it’s 400 degrees outside, remember?) about how planting such a resource-intensive city in the middle of resource-less desert is a crime against nature. …  Okay, I’m finished now.)  But then again, the food really is fantastic!

Eye candy and creature comforts aside, it was the flight into this play-land of a city that sent my mind on an existential chase. 

No matter how many times I do it, I will never tire of flying across the Rocky Mountains.  The view from the air is unlike anything you can experience from the ground, or even from an aerial photograph.  The landscape changes in front of your eyes as the flat and agricultural plains of Kansas give way to the rolling foothills of the Rockies.  And just as quickly those foothills are transformed into full-fledge mountains, which transform yet again as you bend South into the craggy cliffs and bluffs of New Mexico and Arizona. 

After a childhood spent vacationing there it is the pine covered forests of Colorado that usually capture my heart.  But on Wednesday it was in my gazes down on those Southwestern cliffs and bluffs that I looked out and saw myself. 

Sedimentary rock.  This part of the country is made up of sedimentary rock.  The land was formed by layers and layers of sandstone and silt and shale settling upon each other and sacrificing their individual natures to join together and create something unified.  Through a process that I’ve learned is called lithification, the layers of sedimentary rock are compacted, cemented, and recrystallized.  And it is that recrystallization that most interests me.  It means that the layers, which were once something separate and distinct, become a single substance.  Yet the mesas and buttes still betray their composition, revealing rust colored stripes in places where wind and water have eroded their sides. 

The analogy of layers in people is not novel.  As we discover and explore the many facets of ourselves and our counterparts we make mention of layers, frequently citing the peeling back of those layers to get to the “true nature” of someone.  But (at least for today) I find fault with this analogy.  Rather than peeling away my layers to uncover my true essence, I believe I am the sum total of my layers.  Like the rugged desert landscape, my layers do not mask me, they become me.  I too am recrystallized into something unified that represents the full spectrum of my life. 

I am the product of the people, places, and experiences that have comprised me.  To look at some aspect of myself absent the others is to obfuscate the complex and nuanced person I am.  Like the cliffs and bluffs on the ground beneath that shiny plane I am one; a single, a whole, a unified person.  Yet within that single, whole, unified person exist myriad components, none of which can stand alone, as they are all connected tightly together as Gale.    

I find comfort in this unified theory of Gale.  It means that I can embrace myself as I am, not needing to emphasize or diminish any part of myself in an effort to become something else.  This is what I am, and it is a welcoming way to think of myself.

Homebodies and Rolling Stones

Friday, June 4th, 2010

For those of you who are fellow bloggers you are familiar with the site swap.  For those of you who do not blog, permit me a bit of explanation.  While I write this blog for myself – to satisfy my own curiosities and explore the things I find interesting – I would be lying if I said that the feedback, insight, and sense of community I’ve grown to love from my fellow bloggers wasn’t also a big part of my affinity for writing, and more specifically, blogging.  Over time we come to know snippets of each other.   And while sometimes names, hometowns, and other identifying details are conspicuously absent, the heart of the matter (whatever that matter may be) is always fully explored. 

Kristen at Motherese is one such fellow blogger whose words I look forward to and whose insights I value.  And so today, I’m honored to post her words here, so that you may get a glimpse of her perspective on life.  In turn, a post of mine is up on her site, so when you’re finished here, stop by her place for my post.  And stick around and pilfer through her archives.  I know you won’t be disappointed.

Homebodies and Rolling Stones
by Kristen @ Motherese

Flying home on a Sunday afternoon in January after another week away, I was actually a bit sad to see the trip come to an end.

That is unusual for me: I usually prefer to stay home than to travel.  I enjoy planning vacations and mapping out an itinerary, but, as often as not, I find myself counting down the days until I can return home once I am actually on the road.

I traveled a lot as a kid and as a young adult.  I’ve visited almost all of the states and many countries.  I’ve had my breath stolen by natural wonders and by man-made structures.  I’ve biked on glaciers in Alaska and gulped apple wine at Oktoberfest in Offenbach.

I treasure these experiences, but sometimes I feel like a collector of memories – more interested in tucking them away and looking at them in pictures, rather than in living a trip as it occurs.

Feeling somewhat nostalgic for this recent trip that was coming to an end, I happened upon two bits of literary inspiration – one lofty, the other not so much – that helped me name these phenomena.

The first came through the typically direct words of Olive Kitteridge, the title character of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel-in-stories, and a companion of mine on my trip to Florida.  Olive’s grown son Christopher invites her for a visit.  She declines his request to have her stay “for a couple of weeks” with the rejoinder: “Three days…After that I stink like fish.”

And I wondered if Olive’s rule of thumb for houseguests might just apply to travelers as well – and if the best vacations are those that contain – almost like the best meals? – just enough to fill you up, but still leave you wanting a bit more.

This trip to Florida was just that for me.  I was delighted by the sunshine and the warmer temperatures, by the chance to walk and play outside in January, by the time with my parents and brothers.  I felt full of all of these good sensations, then drove away from those people whom I love wishing for more of all of them.

For me, the ideal time away was a week.  For Olive, it seems to be three days.  For others, it might be more or less.  The key, I think, is knowing your travel tolerance and planning accordingly.

The second piece of worldly and wordy wisdom came from one of Big Boy’s favorite book series: Toot & Puddle.  These porcine roommates and best friends have different perspectives on travel.  Toot has been bit by the travel bug and spends most of his time on-page globetrotting – from Provence to Nepal, from Egypt to the Solomon Islands.  Puddle, meanwhile, is a homebody.  He occasionally joins Toot on his adventures, but is usually happier in the rhythms of his day-to-day life.  At the end of Toot & Puddle, the first book in the series, the pigs are reunited at home for a December celebration.

“Here’s to all your adventures around the world,” said Puddle.

“Here’s to all your adventures right here at home,” said Toot.

And perhaps that is the distinction right there: some of us find adventure through travel and some of us find adventure through staying put.  And maybe those proclivities bend and evolve as we age, as our destination changes, and as our sense of home shifts.

But maybe some of us shy away from adventure altogether, evincing a preference for home but really masking a fear of the unknown?

Could it be that my own deep connection to the idea of home makes me tend toward a static life?  Could it be that my risk-averse nature causes me to miss out on the brighter and deeper dimensions of living?

What is your travel tolerance (i.e. how long can you be away from home before you want to return)?  Are you a homebody like Puddle and me or a rolling stone like Toot?