Ten years ago

I will be here
I will be here

We are in last phases for our trip to Istanbul. The boarding passes are printed. The bag are packed and by the door. The chargers are being slipped into luggage. The debate is raging whether fresh grapes will cause any anguish in security. I am seconds, seconds away from putting the auto responder “You’re on your own, suckas!!!” (or the professional version thereof) on my work email.

I worked very hard today, and it’s tough beginning to peel my mind away. I’m awash in all the details of two very consuming projects at work. There’s the million and one things I do to keep my household and my family running, “Ok, Mom, Magic needs to get her pill morning and night. Thane eats Life cereal with milk… with his hands. You might want to wait until after breakfast to dress him. And if there are apricots in the farm share, would you mind dicing and freezing half a cup? I’m just short for a batch of jam.” All these things that I carry and remember and think about… now is the time to lay them down. If I haven’t explained something to my mom, well, she’ll figure it out. If I haven’t addressed an issue at work, well, they’ll either have to cope or wait. If I’ve forgotten something, it will have to remain forgotten for a week.

This is why we go on vacation. Because we must see how much we are laying down, and then when we return we can choose how much to pick up again. Maybe, perhaps, the perspective of that freedom of going away will show that some of those things we work so hard to sustain are not worth the energy they sap from us. On the other hand, some things we deal with as mundane requirements of our day to day life are revealed as the shining jewels of existence they are. (See also: bedtime reading time)

I am so ready for this. Tonight we will crawl on a plane — the same flight, I think, I recently took to Amsterdam. It feels funny to have Schipol become, instead of this exotic destination across the world, a familiar place where I’ve mapped out the Starbucks, thankyouverymuch. (Funny note: also on the flight will be a friend from church headed to his family in Denmark. The world is a small place.) I promised a colleague in Amsterdam I’d wave as I landed. I have a bunch of Euros from my last trip to unload, so I think some good chocolate at that nice stand is in order.

Then I start travelling space I’ve never traversed before. Never in my life have I been to Turkey — not even as a squalling bairn (which is, for the record, how I was dragged through much of Africa and Europe). I will set foot on Asian soil for the first time in my life, this trip. We are hoping to visit Hagia Sophia, the underground cistern, the Bosporus. We may take a day to go and visit Ephesus. My husband and I will read, eat, walk, talk, read books, play games and celebrate (get this!) TEN YEARS of married life. Ten years ago this week, we honeymooned in Greece when we did largely the same sorts of things, plus the beach.

These new things – experiences, memories, contexts – will provide rich fodder for my mind and spirit when I return. I know this. I still draw strength from the joy of our pre-kid trip to Austria & Italy. I’ve packed all these books on Byzantium so I can truly BE there and feel the weight of 1500 years of history. I will breathe Belisarius, Justinian and Theodora. I will hear the echoes in ancient cathedrals. I will, I’m sure, meet new characters from legends I have not yet learned.

Sometimes, lately, I have felt rather boring. The things running through my mind… they are largely not things you would be interested in. Much of the time I’m not even interested in them. Not that this is why I have not been blogging lately. No no, trust me. I am perfectly willing to blog about boring stuff. I haven’t been blogging lately because I am SUPER BUSY. But even if the super busy isn’t much affected by wandering Byzantium, the boring will be. My mind will have all this new stuff to process — things I have learned and done for the joy of them, instead of for the need of them. I am so excited about this.

And then there is my love. My husband. My joy. My partner in chaos, parenting and gaming. We are very good partners and enjoy each other a lot… when we can focus on each other. But through necessity, many of our interactions are tactical. “Who’s picking up the kids today? What are we making for dinner? Did you pick up the cat food? Do the kids sound too quiet to you?” I so intensely look forward to talking with my husband about the larger things in the world – those same things I’m eager to put into my mind. After ten years of marriage, I love my husband deeply. I also like him. I can’t wait to be with my friend and my beloved, and to have a great time.

So it’s time to kiss the kids and wish my parents luck with Camp Gramp. It’s time to shut down the computer for (gasp!!!!) like 9 days. It’s time to fill up a memory card with tourist pictures.

I will pick you up when I return. May blessings abound.

Amsterdam

So here I am in Amsterdam, completely jetlagged. I’m spending two days in The Netherlands before flying to Strasburg and driving to my final destination in France. The recommendation I had from those experienced in this particular trip was to catch what sleep I could on the plane over, and then NOT SLEEP as soon as I could get into my hotel room. I’ll go to sleep tonight and then I’ll be more or less on the correct time zone.

So a coworker and I, fresh off the plane, wandered Amsterdam today. Friday was apparently the Queen’s birthday, the proper celebration whereof requires massive amounts of beer. The remainder of the weekend was then dedicated to the pursuit of cleaning up all the mess inspired by the beer. So we wended our way past canals full of boats down picturesque cobblestone streets, gazing at all the interesting shops that were closed because it was 9 am on a Sunday morning. A cold rain is falling — a rain for which I and my wardrobe came completely unprepared.

We pondered going to one of the big museums, but a line of umbrellas stretching around the block, very much like the line of Nannies in Mary Poppins, combined with cold blowing drizzle and extreme jetlag, dissuaded us.

Of course, everything’s going to heck in Boston without me. Without my calming presence, the water lines go all kerfluey and break and the entire city of Boston and environs is under a boil water order (yes, that does include my family). My eldest son has contracted a truly nasty cough, which apparently kept him and everyone else us last night, running hot showers (with untreated water…) and applying Vicks. I’d feel more sympathetic, but even with the disruption in sleep they’ve gotten far more than I have. Then again, I figure I have to stay up another 3 hours or so… they’re just starting their day.

It is an odd feeling, to have woken in the morning on continent. To have played frisbee on the town square and eaten a snack at your own table, and in the space of the same waking day — the same change of clothes — to be so very far away in a land where everyone rides bikes and canals are more common than left turn lights in Boston.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to keep updated. Sadly, although my meetings will be happening far from their usual locales, it may have less of the local flavor than you might wish. That’s a short way of saying that on Wednesday, we’re going bowling.

But my room has a lovely view of a canal, with house boats and ducks. From where I sit, you can see a turgid, modern windmill on the horizon. The wind whips past my window, but it’s warm in here and I feel infinitely better after a post-flight shower. Tomorrow, we meet with our colleagues here, and then fly that hour South to begin the serious rounds of meetings. And I have slides to Powerpoint before I sleep.

Happy birthday Frodo and Bilbo Baggins

Roads go ever, ever on
Roads go ever, ever on

Today is the day that ought to have been my birthday, by all rights. Today is the first day of fall. More importantly, to my young self, today is Frodo and Bilbo Baggin’s collective birthday. Do you have any idea how much it would’ve mattered to me to be the SAME as those two notable halflings in such an important event? I used to try to work out with the time zones and Zaire (my place of birth) whether I had REALLY been born on the 22nd and this incontrovertible FACT was masked by my impossibly-distant place of birth. Or maybe bad record keeping. Or SOMETHING.

Of course now, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure my mom wouldn’t have minded. I was three weeks later than expected. My due date was Labor Day. I used to think this just meant my mom was bad at counting, until I myself went a verifiable two weeks late with Grey. Sorry about that, mom.

Frodo, Fall and I all twine together for a brief period this time of year. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings, this birthday on September 22nd is a critical milestone throughout the books. It’s during a grand birthday that Bilbo disappears in a puff of smoke from Hobbiton. Years later, on that birthday, Frodo grabs his walking stick and three best friends and heads off on desperate, epic quests that make dragons look like child’s play.

Um, it’s possible that these books were just a TOUCH influential on my growing self, ok?

But this time of year brings out the itching in my feet, too. My drive in apparently got the memo about it being the first day of fall. The low places – the mist-covered swamps by the sides of the freeway – have already put out their scarlet and vermilion banners, in anticipation of hordes of tourists coming to admire. The trees are heavy with their fruits. Apples and pears weigh heavily on pregnant limbs, hoping for eventual homes in pies and pastries. The boundaries of my mind get less definite, and I’m mindful of Bilbo’s warning: the road in front of your door connects to all other places in the world. Who knows, by stepping on it, where you will end up?

I admit to inflicting Tolkien on my son at the youngest possible opportunity. His fourth birthday is still eagerly anticipated, but already you can hear him sing, if you listen carefully:


The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The chances the changes are all yours to make
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is there if you are bold
Let go of the moment that life makes you hold
To measure the meaning can make you delay
It’s time you stop thinking and wasting the day.