What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Two trips, actually.

In the last nine days I boosted my usual amount of travel by 200%. This last just-over-a-week has been a real-life “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” and by the very last leg of the two trips yesterday afternoon, I’d pretty much had it. Yes, I’m a lightweight. I realize some people travel, for leisure and/or business, all the time. Those people are very much not me.

I love seeing and learning new things, new places, new people. I’ve been enriched in countless ways by the small amount of travel I’ve been able to do in my lifetime. I’d love to stretch even wider – back to Europe to explore all the places I’ve missed. To the portions of the U.S. I ache to see. (Example: It’s super-exciting for me to be in the Baltimore/D.C. area. But it’s 17 hours by car OR an expensive plane/rental car journey. I’ve always wanted to tour New England – especially in the autumn – but the places I’d love to go, like Boston, Connecticut, and Maine, are HOURS AND HOURS and/or DOLLARS AND DOLLARS further even than Baltimore/ D.C. This nation is too damned big.)

But as much as I’d love to see more new places, traveling fundamentally goes agains the grain for me. So many people. So little alone time. So much being “on.” For a person who has to spend literally hours alone in a quiet room, recharging her emotional batteries after a morning of forced interpersonal encounters, travel is pretty much a love/hate thing.

So by the time I was on the winding ribbon of highway yesterday through the Flint Hills of Kansas, I was something of a mess. There were a lot of reasons for that; recently having to say another good-bye to our Oldest, difficult experiences in travel with The Husband (news flash: people with anxiety, depression, ADHD, hearing loss, and OCD tendencies do NOT make comfortable travel companions), a challenging and exhilerating but fairly draining conference, a brief hello-and-goodbye to our Boy (he had a concert I was able to attend one evening during the conference, which took place in his college town), and the ever-present middle age hormones. All these factors combined as I made the three hour drive home, so that I felt physically unwell and emotionally off-balance.

Today I’ll recover and recalibrate. Do normal, homey things: bake a pie, dust and vacuum, read, knit, tend to my birdfeeders and the Little Free Library, enoy a neighborhood walk in the cool of the morning.

And I bet that by the end of next week I’ll be ready to start dreaming of travel again.


Each in their own way, our three kids made my day for me yesterday.

1. Oldest sent her sister a souvenir from a recent trip to Hawaii. She chose well, knowing that this kind of cute and compact reusable bag had been a coveted item for some time. What she didn’t realize was that there was wording on said bag that would appeal to my stupid sense of humor.

My first thought when I saw what this bag was made of was “Dear God, no!!! How could they do this to Lassie?!” Second thought: Whoever thought that PET was an appropriate abbreviation for the phrase “post-consumer recycled plastic bottles” has a dark sense of humor.

2. No photos of this one (you’ll thank me in a moment), but Middle saved the day with her unbounded heroism first thing yesterday morning. As we stepped onto the driveway to leave the house, we were halted by a flat-on-its-back chipmunk bearing distinct evidence of cat-chew. My daughter calmly donned a neoprine glove, retreived a plastic shopping bag, and removed the carcass to the outdoor trash bin. My hero.

3. In the course of casual texting with The Boy last evening, I received a lovely surprise. His fall break is this weekend plus next Monday and Tuesday, and he’ll be on his way home after his flying lesson on Sunday. I had forgotten fall break was even a thing – neither of his sisters’ colleges have/had one. Does this mean I’m becoming hardened to the absence of our baby? That seems a little weird. At any rate, I’m thrilled.

Good things come in threes!

Reflections on a vacation.

As I work to turn from “vacation me” back into “normal me,” (a task that involves a lot more laundry than I’d like) I’m thinking back on some of the things I appreciate about the Baltimore/D.C. area every time I’m lucky enough to get there.

•Life is simply very different 1,500 miles from my home. People are kind of piled on top of each other in their houses and apartments, in their transportation, in their work. And something about that constant proximity to others seems to break down some barriers. I often hear that the Midwest is the friendliest part of the country. I disagree. People in the Midwest are superficially pleasant. In my experience, people in the East know how to get along with others through constantly being in close quarters with them. It’s an interesting distinction.

•I LOVE being so near to people who don’t look like or sound like me. Regular contact with folks who have a different color of skin or a different accent / language or a completely different background can only be a good thing.

•Speaking of a different accent, I finally got to hear the “Bawl-mer” accent in a woman from our daughter’s church. It’s very difficult to describe. A little bit southern. I noted that the long “a” sound is substituted for the short “a” sound in most words. Fascinating!

•You have to appreciate a place that knows the correct grammar to use on the express lane signs in the grocery store. Around here it’s always “12 items or less.” Wrong.

By the way, that very “green” sign about not using plastic bags unless requested is a total fib. I had to go to this store three times and got a plastic bag by default every time.

•When folks are so close together, space is at a premium, and parking and transportation take on a whole new dimension, walking-distance living and lively neighborhoods are one result. Not only is that fact a fun and novel experience for those of us who feel compelled to own one vehicle per family member (with ample garage/driveway space to park all those cars), it also fosters a great sense of community.

Walking a block and a half to church, which is right across the street from everyone’s favorite ice cream joint. And only a few steps away from a psycic center, a boho boutique, and a high-end restaurant.

One final reflection: One of the loveliest aspects of this vacation was our welcome when we came home. Middle had been on her own while we were gone, and was in class for the entire evening upon our return. She’d spent a few hours earlier in the day cleaning and tidying, doing laundry, and preparing a meal for us, even though she wouldn’t be there to enjoy it. We returned to a peaceful, welcoming, and deliciously-scented home. She’s a gem.

There’s no place like home. But there’s no place like “far away,” either.

Hanging out in “Charm City.”

Our Sunday in Baltimore started early, with a run to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and Boston Creams. Something I try not to make a habit of, but hey – it’s a vacation, right?

Later in the morning we walked around the corner to Oldest’s little church. A beautiful, old stone building, we were part of a congregation of 20. I so rarely get to attend church anywhere but in the congregation in which I work, this was a real treat. Informal, welcoming, and family-style. In fact, the one family with children had three adorable kids under the age of five, and they were an important part of the scene – playing and coloring, wandering around, interjecting cute comments, and sitting on the pastor’s lap. Didn’t hurt, either, that the topic of the bible study today (which took the place of a sermon) veered toward equality for women and LGBTQ rights. Loved every minute of it.

Oldest was the substitute accompanist. Here she’s seen rehearsing before worship, with the full choir.

Next we headed to the inner harbor for lunch at Nick’s Fish Shack, in which crab featured heavily.

After lunch, next to the harbor.

Throughout the day I got text updates from Middle (out shopping with her younger cousin for a Homecoming dress) and The Boy…who was about to go up for the first time, on the third week of his flight lessons. Being in touch with the two other most important people in my life was the next best thing to having all of us together. Sigh…have to wait until Christmas for that.

Grinning from ear to ear. I so wish I could have been there.

It felt great to simply hang around the house all afternoon on Sunday. We played cards and Banagrams, goofed off, and baked cookies. Oldest looked up a recipe from a website titled “A Pinch of Yum,” which was so twee it kind of gave me a “hint of hurl.” At least the cookies turned out okay.

It did my mama heart good to cook supper with her – a big pot of chicken noodle soup so that she’ll have leftover comfort food for a few days to remind her of us.

And now we’re on our way back to real life.

Our day in PA.

There is some awesome history to experience in Philadelphia. I learned quite a bit about the founding of our nation. Another thing I learned: I am severely challenged in the art of making “touchless” faucets  – favored by every single public restroom I’ve visited on this trip – actually yield water. Seriously. I think my hands may be invisible.


One of the first copies of the Declaration – the one that was read to the crowds gathered outside Independence Hall right after ratification.

This is a building we didn’t visit when we were in Philly last year. Insert snarky comment about Congress here.

The first Senate chamber, in Congress Hall.

Let’s play “Spot the apostrophe abuse!” in this letter written by Jefferson. Our very observing eldest discovered this error for us. Hint: it’s in line seven.

After all the awe-inspiring history, we made our way back to Baltimore and the neighborhood of Hampden for supper at a local favorite, Cafe Hon. Their roast beef with mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and gravy made for a warm and homey meal. Then we looked up and spotted this:

Comment by Oldest: “New, from Matell! It’s My First Pope!” I nearly snorted gravy out my nose. Wow, do I miss having this kid around.

Last stop of the day was to a neighborhood ice cream joint that specializes in outrageously delicious flavors, and I had to try this one. Old Bay is the east coast’s favorite seafood seasoning. Caramel ice cream with a kick to it. Excellent!

Today we’ve got a much more low-key, kicked-back day planned. Time to rest and simply enjoy hanging out together. Sounds perfect.

A day in D.C. 

Yesterday was our day in the nation’s capital. Hate the politics, but I love the history, the architecture, and the diverse people. It’s a joy to chat with strangers from different lands and different perspectives. And it’s just as much of a joy, for a brief, shining moment, to get the hell out of the insular, white bread, homogenous state of Kansas. Here on the east coast there’s a good possibility that I could look as far as the eye can see and not run across a super-conservative, right-wing bible thumper. Heavenly.

Our day in pictures:

On a police call booth, outside Penn Station in Baltimore. Beautiful AND powerful.

The first stop we took on the circuit bus. Last time I was in DC we wore ourselves out walking everywhere and didn’t make it to this beautiful monument. I seriously teared up on seeing Lincoln’s statue yesterday.


On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, marking where Dr. King made his earth-shattering speech. Standing in this spot was awe-inspiring.


We only had time for one Smithsonian museum, so we did American History, even though Oldst and I had been before. This exhibit, a reminder of the Civil Rights struggle, gave me chills.

It was a wet, cold, blustery day. We were chilled and soaking wet. There were some arguments and a little snapping back and forth (between The Husband and myself – we truly should NOT travel together). Actually, a lot of snapping. But it was all worth it. 

This morning we head to historic Philadelphia and Independence Hall on another cold, wet day. We go armed with new umbrellas (ours were all turned inside out and rendered useless in D.C.). And when the arguments and snapping die down, we do actually enjoy each other’s company. 

Looking forward to making new memories today.

Good morning, Baltimore! 

My mom, The Husband and I arrived yesterday morning to a chilly, rainy Baltimore – thank you, Hurricane Juaquin, for bringing us autumn weather.

Hijinks on the plane

We made our way to Oldest’s fruit fly lab at Hopkins, where we toured the interesting sights and smells of her daily work.

Incubated fruit flies and their food have a distinctively odd odor.

We stopped at a fun diner in her neighborhood for lunch – tons of choices for vegan foodies like Middle, who sadly couldn’t be with us on this trip.

Every menu was backed by an old vinyl LP cover. Fun!

Then a grocery run, during which I managed to slam three of my mother’s fingers into the door of the rental car. Deep sorrow and guilt. We were thankful for the kindness of the guy at the fish counter, who gave us a large bag of ice. And my mom was a real sport – very little complaining and no tears. I, on the other, hand, was a wreck.

All day long The Husband was having inner ear problems, probably compounded by the flight. He was headachy, off-balance, and confused most of the day. Which made him cranky and nit-picky. Which came out in his running commentary as I was driving – perfectly competently – around Baltimore. “You just passed up three diffferent parking spaces.” “I don’t think you’re close enough to the curb.” “Is this really the best way to go? I always check every possible route because the GPS will send you through stop lights.” “Do you really want to park here and walk all that way to the diner?” (We were less than a block away). “I don’t know why you can’t just listen to me and do what I say.” (Maybe becase you are currently frigging INSANE?!?)

Today we board the train to D.C. to see monuments, memorials, and museums – thankfully on a “hop-on-hop-off” bus, since we’ve got more rain and a predicted high of 55.

Leaving aside the marital strife and the indavertent elder abuse, we’re having a great time. Really!

Firing on all cylinders.

With nine days out of the office looming, I had to kick everything into high gear this week, trying to cram two weeks’ worth of work and work prep into three days. As a rabid to-do list addict, I was knocking things off my lists at the speed of light. And adding more things and knocking them off, too.

Up at 5:30 am to download boarding passes and register flight info with the rental car company? Yup.

Supper in the Crock Pot so the people arriving home at different times this evening will all have a decent, hot meal? You bet.

Prepare gourmet snacks for a hospitality station this evening, before the first meeting of the day? Check.

Two extra meetings on my last day in the office? Got it covered. Rocking the leadership thing at every turn.

Oooh – almost didn’t think of this one: Prepare a marquee display AND a presentation that I’ll have to have ready to go the day I get back into the office? Done.

Last-minute effort to turn around a ship at work that’s been as disastrous as the Titanic for the last ten years, with only half an hour to spare before I really HAVE to go home and pack? I’ve got this.

And home to pack, using the checklist I prepared over the weekend when I had a minute to sit down and breathe and think. Quick meal, and back out the door to put in one more hour at work and cover just a few more bases.

Only one obnoxious glitch yesterday, which resulted in a tip I can pass along…While picking out jewelry to match each outfit you’re packing for a trip (yes, it’s pure vanity), make every effort NOT to knock the very full jewelry box onto the floor, scattering 100 minuscule, sparkly items throughout the dust bunnies that have collected in the bedroom since the last time you remembered to run the Swiffer around.

I was moving so fast I could have used some of these fire retardant shorts.

Today it’s off to the airport, in the dark and cool of the autumn morning. I did all the work I possibly could to get ready. Now the fun begins.

What the…?!?

Our closest grocery store was only built a couple of years ago. Clean, bright, and shiny, it’s our go-to place for weekly shopping, even though it has some drawbacks.

A serious drawback appeared on last week’s weekly grocery trip. Only a day or two previously, our local major league team, the Kansas City Royals, had clenched their division for the first time in something like thirty years. (Though my non-sports brain doesn’t get that, since  the team was in the World Series last year.) THIS is what greeted us as we entered the store:

Middle was with me. We were sure it had to be some kind of mistake. Or maybe a very bizarre joke.

Nope. When I stopped by yesterday for a middle-of-the-week run for fresh fruit and a few other staples, these two freaks were still doing welcoming duties, looking exactly as they did last Friday.

SOOOOOO many questions…

  1. Who, in the name of all that’s holy, thought this was a good idea?
  2. Torsos on stadium seats? Was management too cheap to spring for legs?
  3. Is our store observing Zombie Preparedness Week? (This is, apparently, a thing. It’s the name of some kind of state campaign to get people to plan ahead for severe weather events…weird.)
  4. The Husband’s contribution: Did that dude’s left hand cause him to sin? (That was the Gospel text in church last Sunday, so it sprang immediately to mind. You know, cutting off any body part that “causes you to sin?” Except it’s really meant to be metaphorical. As our pastor put it, “Funny, you never hear bible literalists quoting this passage.”)
  5. What is going on with those heads, which clearly do not match the bodies?

I demand answers.

I’m going on a trip…

Ever played that game? Everybody sits in a circle. The first person says, “I’m going on a trip, and I’m taking pickled pig’s feet, (or whatever pops into their head).” The person next to him makes up her own item to take, but also has to say whatever the person before was taking, as well. “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking a toothbrush (obviously this player is much more sensible) and pickled pig’s feet.” By the time you get around the circle it’s like an even longer and more bizarre version of the last verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Well, in two days I’m going on a trip. First to Baltimore to spend five days with my mom, The Husband, and most especially our darling Oldest. When we come home, I breathe for a day and then pack my bags to leave again for three days of another dose of awesome leadership training in The Boy’s university town. Leaving aside the fact that this much time away from my beloved, cozy home is likely to create serious anxiety and repeated sleepless nights, AND leaving aside the fact that planning ahead for being away from work for 9 days is WAY more work than actually being at work, I’m thrilled about these two trips. 

So….here’s my version of the game. I’m going on a trip, and I’m taking…

•Achy, arthritic hands because I keep crocheting on the children’s blankets I’m making for a local charity. Really, I’ve got to stop. Or at least switch to knitting.

•Achy, sore everything else because I went for a walk before sunrise yesterday, rolled my ankle off the edge of a sidewalk, and pitched forward onto the cement. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

•Copious amounts of anti-inflamatories for the aches and Benedryl for the sleepless nights. 

•Lingering concern over my father and his living situation, even though I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s very little I can do about it. 

•Worry for our dear, sweet Middle, who is struggling with several issues lately. Leaving her on her own for a week – even though she’s 22 years old and extremely mature and competent – will be a wrench.

•My iPad, so I can keep in touch with the people who are covering for me at work, with the people I’m missing while I’m with another person I usually miss, and with my blog.

•Freshly colored hair. Because vanity.

•Freshly done pink-and-white nails. Because <see above>.

•Clothes and underwear and stuff. 

Wonder what I’m forgetting…