Home for the Holidays

“Ah, you are back!” cried a friend, spotting me at a holiday Cookie Exchange party. “When are you leaving again? I really miss your blogs!”It has been more than a month since we returned to California and I have been planing to write a blog about the challenges of reentry home after a long travel. But we have been busy with mundane tasks of bringing our home and garden up to date after two years of benign neglect. I am pleasantly surprised in the good shape it really is. The walls don’t even need to be repainted, nor the carpet replaced. There are of course plenty of minor repairs and the frustration of finding someone to do it. The garden is an overgrown jungle and some of the plants have died. It takes time and energy to just get appointments with the handyman and the gutter people and the gardeners.

We were really lucky first with a year of Airbnb rentals and then another year renting our home to a most wonderful Australian family. Even though Airbnb got a lot of bad press lately, personally we have great experiences from both sides as hosts and as guests. I have left a guestbook at home and came back to many hearth warming messages from families that stayed affordably at our house and had a chance to join in celebrations of weddings, graduations or grandpa’s birthday party. There were also many international travel elders that found a comfortable home away from home in our house. I got a special kick out of a Swiss family traveling around the world with their two young boys and checking out their travel website. We in turn had met wonderful Airbnb hosts around the world that helped make our travel not only more affordable, but much nicer and deeper.

What strikes me almost immediately upon returning back home, is how exhausting and time consuming (and totally under appreciated) domestic work is and how liberating it is to travel. Free of the everyday drudgery of chopping onions for dinner, scrubbing pots and pans, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming carpets, standing in line for groceries and sweeping leaves, that keep on falling in the garden, one has time and energy to devote to exploration, physical and mental. Thinking and processing of old and new ideas, meeting and conversing with scores of new interesting people, adding spontaneous stops on the way as the days unfold with vigor and energy fueled by lovely meals someone else prepared, slipping into comfortable beds someone else changed (and washed and ironed).

Because of all that time on our hands in our exploration luxury we discover many places that even the locals don’t know. And because our travels are much about connecting to people we find it especially entertaining to show or tell locals of secret places we discovered on their turf. “Oh, I didn’t know there was a restaurant in that old building.” or “I haven’t been to the museum since the school excursion.” Haven’t climbed past all 12 Stations of the Cross on the pilgrimage route to the little church, haven’t seen the restored ballroom in the chateau, haven’t taken the ferry to the nearby island, haven’t been to waterfall in the woods.

Lest I come across as a judgemental prick, let me admit that in nearly 30 years of living in the Bay Area we haven’t been to Alcatraz once. It will be there later, and anyway, it is too much of a tourist attraction.

Life gets in the way of fun and exploration; there are bills to be paid, windows to be washed, cars to be taken for oil change. We will save Alcatraz for later, the expensive Egyptian Mummy traveling exhibit for when we have more money. Taking a whole family to a museum or ballet performance in America should begin with a stop at the bank to ask for a loan.

Reconnecting to friends back home over a home cooked meal has been the fun part of reentry, especially those interested in travel. Because they will ask questions beyond “What is your favorite country?” We can discuss and compare shared experiences and ponder logistical questions of long term travel.

There is a big difference in going on vacation and traveling long term. When going on vacation you just need to lock your front door and go. Of course, if you don’t have plants to water and pets to feed. Still, remembering the old days of vacationing, I realize how different is the mind frame of short and long term travel.

For those deep in the workforce – it takes time to dig yourself out of the hole of work problems. The first few days are spent letting go of worry and responsibility and then as the departure back home approaches the planing for all the tasks awaiting you begins and spoils the end of vacation.

For those deep in the domestic duties crowned with primary responsibility for wellbeing of little ones – family vacation might liberate you from cooking and cleaning, but the mind is still in the trenches of counting the kids and keeping them safe (and fed and hydrated and slathered in sunscreen) in a new environment with unknown dangers.

Traveling long term you can let go of many things quickly. For me the liberation is in having very few possessions in my travel bag and not being inundated with negative news.

One day soon after our arrival back home, my husband asks me, “Why are you so crabby?”

Surprisingly I don’t negate it, nor go on a tactical offense. I know it is true and the answer dons on me immediately. It is exactly what I was most worried about on our reentry. Despite not watching TV we are immediately sucked into the ugliness of US political news and the international conflicts as well. When we left two years ago, it was bad. I felt compelled to join in protests and organizing some community resistance. It gave me some measure of hope. Then we left, thinking it can’t get much worse. Coming back now and seeing how much worse it did get and how much lower our humanity has sunk, is disheartening. I used to be angry, now I am dismayed and hopeless. Not only for the state of politics, but the state of community discourse as well.

To stay connected to our home community I have been reading NextDoor postings on my email. NextDoor is a great platform and a resource for local communities with recommendations, safety alerts, and community discussions. What I noticed though is a gradual deterioration of civility in communication. People have opinions on everything and some of the comments are downright nasty and turning into personal attacks. I always felt blessed to live in a “nice”, “progressive” community, but I am not so sure about it anymore.

Driving has been a shock, too. The traffic has doubled, if not tripled and the behavior has deteriorated. I have been flipped and honked at for stopping on a yellow light instead of driving though. People won’t let others merge or will take the parking spot you are waiting for.

I am always freaking out that my husband will get into an argument over such actions and someone will pull a gun on him. Because guns in America are everywhere and mass shootings a regular occurrence. Of which we are reminded often in the foreign lands, where people can’t comprehend that American children are murdered in school with regularity. Sometimes those admonitions come in lands with a very strong military arm or experiencing war conflicts with their neighbors. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.

Back home I am asked if the countries we go to are safe and all I can respond is with: Do you feel safe in the US where people get shot at school, at work, at the hospital, at Walmart? It doesn’t happen in any of the countries we have travelled to for the last two years.

Driving to San Francisco and around Bay Area it sure looks and feels a lot let safe. Not that there are people running around with guns, but man, there are so many more homeless encampments on sidewalks and disheveled mentally unstable people walking around speaking to themselves or yelling out loud. There are daily reports of car break ins and mugging and home invasions and they are not happening to strangers in newspapers, but to people we know personally. Perhaps our girls worry about us gallivanting to the ends of the world, but we also really worry about them, living in San Francisco.

I can’t help noticing how filthy the streets are, how much trash lies on the sides of the freeways and how neglected the roads are, full of potholes and overflowing gutters. Having just come from Istanbul, it is shocking, there the freeways were spectacular; new, clean, and enhanced by planted trees, shrubs and flower beds.

But then Turkey is ruled by another autocrat, that half the people despise and half adulate. What is it with this whole crop of old mean men suddenly coming to power everywhere, good old Europe included? And what is it with people that vote them into power? And what is it with women in particular, who don’t mind the prospect of reversal of the progress we have made? I just don’t get it! These very same women who look down on Muslim women for wearing a scarf, are supporting these icky old men who are blatantly disrespectful and downright nasty to women? Somebody, anybody give me an answer, please!

If there is one country that bucks the trend it is New Zealand with the phenomenal, inspiring young female prime minister Jacinda Ardern. She is my hero and my hope. Too bad we are too old to be starting anew in a far, far off land.

Coming home for the holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas is the best time for a return. Though this special time also brings forth another thing that I don’t appreciate. No, not just the obnoxious, loud Christmas tunes playing everywhere, but the big capitalist push for consumerism and gift giving. Shop, shop, buy, buy and get it delivered overnight. Or not, as what I read is, that wholly 1/5 of all packages get stolen from in front of doors or mailboxes. The spirit of the Season, indeed!

Still the holidays are to celebrate the family and with family and we are so lucky that all three of our girls live in one place and not scattered around.

Thanksgiving has never been our favorite holiday because we don’t particularly like American football (always watched on Thanksgiving), nor the traditional huge turkeys baked to oblivion. But there are some fun side dishes to enjoy once a year like tangy cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potato (with marshmallows and brown sugar?), pumpkin pie. If someone else even makes it for you, how could you not say yes!

To return the favor our family invites our oldest daughter’s family in law to a traditional Czech Christmas. The ubiquitous turkey is replaced by two ducks. According to Czech tradition fish has to be served for Christmas Eve dinner, karp specifically. It is in our case Americanized into salmon.

But the crowning glory of our Christmases has always been Mirek’s marvelous potato salad, each year decorated differently.Then there is a sweet reunion with our four legged friends.

They have excellent memories and their tails wag happily when they see us again.

We now have 3 grand pups to spoil. And you know who is the one who spoils them the most! When we pet sit we like to take them for a long walk at a nearby reservoir. At least there I feel the old sense of Americans being very warm and friendly. Many say hello and ask about the breed of the dogs complementing them lavishly and we do the same for people with their dogs walking towards us on the path.

Someone asked us what we miss most on the road. I know my husband will say “my bathtub”, but I can’t come up with a single thing. What surprises me is how easily I can slip back and forth. I walked into our house after two years and felt immediately at home again. “That’s because you immediately spread your shit all over the place,” says my husband. Yeah, I am perfectly happy to travel with a small duffel and then I come home and quickly cover all horizontal surfaces with boxes of tea and flowers and bottles of wine and holiday cards and small treasures from the road.

And guidebooks and maps to plan more travel. What I like most about being home is plenty of time and a place to plan the next adventures. 2020 is shaping to be another great travel year!

16 thoughts on “Home for the Holidays

  1. Good to hear of our reentry.Yes isn’t it funny that Americans don’t seem to realize WE are the dangerous country. AND I believe we have always been the most sexually chauvinistic country for all our talk of equality…it was so 60 years ago I noticed when first in Europe.

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    1. It must be our Puritan roots! I will never forget: When I had our first baby in Arizona at about 6 months of age I was in the pool with her and I dipped her in without any clothes. A man came over and admonished me that she should have a swimming suit on. I was speechless. I didn’t even know swimming suits existed for babies. Surely didn’t in Europe then.

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  2. Welcome back! I don’t have an answer for your desperate question, but I can add Finnland to New Zealand of countries offering hope? As for domestic duties – maybe having some of them at home makes you realize how the more exponentially pleasurable travel is? As for guns – I must share an anecdote: when the last child got off the school bus on June 11, 2017 before we moved from the US to Europe, I caught myself thinking “Well now I don’t have to worry about my kids getting shot to death anymore”, and when I realized that thought, I forced myself to list all the wonderful things about public school in the US – and there were many, but honestly the culture of violence is something that leaves a bitter taste. It takes a concerted effort to shield oneself from the culture of violence and the package that comes with it. I am glad my children are now continuing to grow up in a society where they experience true equal opportunity for all: free education, ample public transport, universal healthcare, strong sense of belonging and ZERO fear of anything… But on to more pleasant things: indeed funny how the Christmas meal in Austria is also almost a replica of Thanksgiving but with a goose (we had duck also – and of course fish on Christmas eve!) Thank you for sharing your back home thoughts! Happy New Year! PS You might want to check out my husband’s grandmother’s sweet potato casserole recipe for next Thanksgiving: spiked with bourbon and sugary pecans instead of marshmallows on top!! Bon apétit!

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  3. Thanks for postings – truly enjoy
    I have stepped down as President/CEO and cut salary to 4 day week – in reality means now working 40 -50 hrs. a week instead of 50- 60 , but still enjoy driving big projects

    After 50 years of marriage did spend 2+ weeks (for 1st time in marriage) this fall starting in Yosemite and ending up in Olympic National Park – did not turn on computer (found world did not stop) – maybe will try to expand a bit in 2020

    You all have a GREAT HOLIDAY SEASON with your family and enjoy your 2020 travels – look forward to posts

    Glen and Donna Kelly

    Glen M. Kelly PE, PLS
    Executive Vice President
    Qk4
    1046 E. Chestnut St., Louisville, KY 40204
    502.693.6278
    gkelly@qk4.com

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  4. Ksenija, vesela sem, da lahko berem vse tvoje zapise! Obljubim si, meni in tebi, da se bom se ucila anglescine, da te bom se bolj razumela!
    Uzivajta doma/ v SF in vrnita se spet v naso majhno lepo Slovenijo.

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  5. Happy new year. I can t believe the changes you saw and how now I am used to. I don t watch any opinionated news for sanity and still seem to be familiar with all the news.
    It is however a good life here. Your travels are amazing. Keep me in your loop. I love to travel too….

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  6. Great to hear from you – happy 2020!
    Re your question: Just pls. go voting in fall to end this – you are in the right position to change (while the rest of the world has no handle…).
    Curious to see your zravel plans materialize – and let me know if you happen to be in Switzerland once.
    Cheers, Daniel

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    1. Dear Daniel, of course we vote, but unfortunately we are in California where the Democrats win by majority, so we really don’t have influence on the presidential election outcome. The president alas is not chosen by popular vote but by electoral vote. Thank you for your kind invite to Switzerland. Let’s try this summer to get together and talk scuba!

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