Archive for August, 2010

Need a bit more time…

Everyone says I’ve been running around like a chicken with her head cut off since the day I landed back in the US – and they’re right. I’ve been rushing through everything: seeing friends and family (in multiple states); unpacking; buying (and fixing) cars, phones, etc.; getting Nick ready and to school (moved him in yesterday. It was difficult – for me anyway – but I really think he’ll thrive there); finding a realtor; starting my new job search; planning this road trip. And they’re right. I haven’t honestly taken more than a moment to breathe (well, I took two moments: one at the Cape with Mom and Mark and one in Florida with Dad and Mag) and I haven’t been planning much breathing time into the road trip either.

I think it’s time to stop. For a minute. And think about things. (Ugh – I hate thinking – that’s usually when I end up either in shock or in tears!) As my mom wrote on the cover of one of my books in high school (because I’ve pretty much been doing the same thing – going non-stop – since then): “All organisms need rest. If they don’t rest, they die.” I’m paraphrasing – she put it in much more scientic terms. But you get the idea. Not that I think I’m on the brink of death, but I do think I had better not rush through everything and end up regretting it. Two thing specifically: prepping my house for selling and prepping myself for the road trip.

If I leave on Sun. Sept 5, that basically leaves me tomorrow (Wed.) and Friday to prepare the entire house and get ready for the road trip. (Thursday I have to be in Boston for meetings, Saturday mom and I are visiting Nick in Salem and Sunday we’re visiting Jake in Amherst.) Not exactly realistic for a 10 room house with a two-story two-car garage! Especially one lived in by a recovering collector of absolutely everything (me). I’ve pretty much decided the house will go on the market when I leave for the road trip (just have to pick realtor),  and I don’t want to sabotage myself by leaving it the way it is (a cluttered mess – even after filling an entire dumpster and having a giant yard sale). Or by concentrating both of those days on the house and being completely unprepared for my trip (although I know I can buy pretty much anything I need on the road).

So I looked at my initial itinerary, thought about what I could cut out or simply shorten a bit, and I decided I can leave on Thursday, Sept. 9, without changing much. I just cut out a few of the minor stops along the way in upstate New York (which aren’t far if I want to go in the future) and Ohio. That will put me at Niagara Falls late next week and my cousin’s school in Ohio next weekend, which are important things to me.  And from there on out I’m going to take my mother and other’s advice and allow a bit more time in places to soak up the atmosphere, relax, enjoy and breathe…

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Am I doing it right?

Deep down I know there’s no right or wrong way to plan my road trip, but every time I start to write things down and really plan it I feel like I’m doing SOMETHING wrong. And that feeling gets confirmed when I share what I’ve planned with someone.

“You should take more time in each place. You don’t want to rush.” “You shouldn’t make a beeline to one place – especially not the middle of the country.” “Why would you go there and then all the way back to there?” “Oh no, don’t go there.” Ok, the last one is helpful when it comes with an explanation, so I can judge whether I really should skip a place or not. And the first ones are all repeats of what I am saying to myself, I’m just not sure how else to do it all. I want to see so many places, but I do have to remind myself not to rush. I do want to get to certain places to see people, but I also want the route I use to get there to make sense.

So I think what I’m going to do is put milestones along the way – certain places I MUST be by a certain time, and leave a bit in the middle more up in the air. That both scares me and is a relief. It scares me because if I don’t  know ahead where I’m going to be each day, I won’t be able to book somewhere to stay each night and then I could end up without any fairly reasonable options. But it’s a relief in that I don’t have to do as much detailed planning ahead of time. And I want to leave some things open. What if I get to Indiana National Dunes National Lakeshore and love it and just want to take pictures and read on the beach all day? That won’t be able to happen if I’ve booked a place to sleep two stops and five hours away. Think this is one area I’ll start by facing my fears, not over planning and seeign how it goes…

So my milestones so far(with LOTS of stops between):

  • Amherst with my family to start Sept 5.
  • Nashville Sept 17 for the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman (accidentily bought tix for this show when I meant to buy for the other, so am going to be in Nashville ALOT in Sept!) My friend Amy – an up-and-coming country star herself, check her out on her new website http://www.amywestney.bandvista.com/ – would love this one as it features her idol Carrie Underwood.
  • Nashville Sept. 21-24 as some London friends will be in town.
  • New York City Sept. 24-27 for my friend’s wedding/friends weekend and then to start my job search.
  • Nashville Sept 28 for the grand re-opening of the Grand Ole Opry – looks to be an incredible show!
  • Have to figure out what city I’ll be near Oct 1-3 so I can book my tickets home for Nick’s college family weekend and to celebrate his 19th birthday!
  • Oct 4 – Maybe Oklahoma for a friend’s birthday.
  • Oct. 24 – San Diego for the Patriots game – it’s the only road game I think makes sense. And Afraid none of the Red Sox games fit. Checking Celtics schedule next…

I’m finding it hard to think past October right now, so this is it for the moment. Any planning tips? Other milestones I should keep in mind?

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Gambling or Graceland?

Road trip planning is officially under way. I have a giant fold-out US map decorated with dot stickers – currently 47 although I know some dots will move and others will be added – marking my planned stops. (See the new tab at the top of my home page called ‘Road Trip Itinerary’ for details.) I also have an 8×10 state-a-page atlas that I carry with me everywhere I go and frequently reference. If nothing else I’m learning a lot about US geography!

My last week as social butterfly has paid off too ’cause it seems nearly everyone has a friend or family member I can visit along the way. That is wonderful – the more the merrier – keeping me company and out of skeezy motels. And reducing the need for me to resort to my friend Jane’s suggestion of trying http://www.rentadate.com when I’m in an area where I don’t know anyone but am sick of being alone. Good thing I like plenty of alone time!

People also have many tips and words of wisdom for me. Even Nick is showing his protective side. A couple of friends recommended I try staying in hostels. They said they’re cheaper and full of friendly people looking to explore the local area. Nick doesn’t like that idea at all. He also sides with my dad in the ‘avoid Memphis’ debate. To visit Graceland or not? Worth the $30 admission charge and a ride through some not so nice areas? Not sure yet. Dad’s suggestion is to instead take a side trip to Tunica, Mississippi – specifically the casino. In fact, last night (Nick and I are in Florida for a quick visit) Dad gave us all a lesson in 7 Card Stud Poker so I can have a fighting chance if I do pop into that or any other casinos along the way. Hmmmm… they do have good buffets!

Where do you think I should go? What sites must I not miss?

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Today we went to Nick’s college orientation – in fact, he’s still there until late tomorrow afternoon. It wasn’t an easy day. My nerves woke me about 3:30 this morning. I instantly knew there was no going back to sleep so I got up and cleaned, did laundry, made more lists (thanks for jump starting me with that yesterday Nicole!) and packed. All before leaving the house at 6:30 am. I’m spending tonight near Salem with my cousin Tara and then after Nick finishes orientation we’re heading to Maine to spend time with Heather and her family.

I can’t say the day instantly got better after the rather early start. At times it was embarrassing (like when I was mistaken for a student and ushered into a student orientation group), sad (I just can’t believe Nick’s old enough to be leaving me for college) and frustrating (wish he was a bit more into it. On the way he said, “It’s clear this means way more to you than to me.” Ya, duh. Just wish he was with me on that one! But I do know this is tough for him too and he has to be a macho cool teenage boy).

I’m in a session right now – kind of cheating by only half listening (maybe I’ll be kicked out of class) – but my ears just perked up as they said we as parents must model confidence, behaviors and skills (oops, maybe should start really paying attention) and not show our students our anxiety. Too late – strike one for me. And probably strike two and three, too, since I’m publishing it for all the world to see! The thing is, I have no doubt that he can do great and be really happy if he just decides to. I really hope that is what he’ll do. What more do we want for our kids?

I just want him to:

  • relax.
  • be himself.
  • have fun.
  • use his brain.
  • be safe.
  • know that I’m here for him.
  • know how much I love him.

I do think this will be harder for me than for him. But I also know it’s not going to be as easy as he’s acting like he thinks it will be.

Ok, so family orientation has ended. Yes, I did put my notebook down and listen to most of the rest of the sessions, which is good because I actually learned some useful information. Time for me to leave. The students are upstairs eating lunch and I texted Nick to see if he needs anything before I take off. Here’s the text I got back: “Nope.” Oh well. Nothing like being dismissed. I suddenly feel like he’s five and I’m leaving him at kindergarten for the first time – only this time he doesn’t even hug me goodbye. Tears sting my eyes as I pray, for the millionth time, that he enjoys the orientation and makes friends with good kids. But he’s 18 and I know there’s nothing more I can do…

As I mentioned, tonight I’m staying near Salem. This is a good dose of on-the-road reality for me: a cheap motel like I’ll be staying at across the country. As I open the door, the smell hits me smack dab in the face: must and mold. Note to self: must really stock up on allergy meds! Appeal to friends: please keep sending me offers to stay with your friends and family across the country so I won’t be subjected to too many of these! At least this one has soap and shampoo. My, how my standards have lowered. Olivia Joules (another character from the Bridget Jones creator) would be so disgusted. She hates staying anywhere that doesn’t fold the toilet paper in a point and keep it in place with a little sticker! Me, I’m just happy to have soap, running water and a toilet that flushes. A half-decent bed is a nice bonus.

After checking out the motel, I drove a bit further north to meet up with one of my girlfriends, Alicia. This has been how I’ve been spending nearly every waking moment since I finished working – actually pretty much since I landed! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, whatever with friends – catching up, venting, seeing their kids, significant others, pets. I love it. It’s the most important thing to me. It’s the main reason why I’m back.

Heading north on 95 there are many interesting and amusing things. My favorite is this giant, billboard-size neon pink fertility clinic sign which makes me wonder why a fertility clinic needs a sign like that – do they think women are going to see it and suddenly veer off at the next exit to rush there as they would Dunkin Donuts or a gas station restroom? It also makes me wonder how in the world I’m going to capture all these thoughts while I’m driving – may have to do as one of my friends was suggesting the other day and start using the voice notes on my phone and transcribe it later. I also really wanted a picture of the sign but didn’t think  it was smart to stop on 95 to take it. I will try to remember safety first!

The day’s ended much better than it began. Tara joined me for dinner and a sleepover at the less-than-five-star motel. She showed me more of Salem, one of her old stomping grounds and we enjoyed being by the water. We both just hope that Nick grows to love the area like we do and that this is the start of something great for him…

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There are so many little things about the US that you don’t truly appreciate until you are gone for a long time and then move back. Here are some that have been making me smile as I get reaquainted with my home country…

  • Running to Target at 9:30 pm for the CD you must have, the supermarket at 11 pm to appease a craving or Wal-Mart at 7 am to grab cold medicine before work. Nowhere in the UK is open early or late. Seriously – most everything closes at 6 or 7. (Although I admit it wasn’t much better here last night when we wanted pizza at 11 pm.)
  • Butter on popcorn at the movies.
  • Outback. Prime rib – did you know they don’t do that cut in the UK???
  • Red Sox games, Paw Sox games, Patriots Training Camp and live coverage of Shaq joining the Celtics.
  • Country music on the radio. I constantly had my ipod on rather than listen to the very few stations there that seemed to be all 80s, techno or talk. Sure, I like all types of music but I can’t live without country!
  • Live awards shows. You actually watch them WHILE they are happening – at least most of them. In the UK, you know all the winners by the time they edit and air it.
  • Fun commercials. Most UK commercials are harsh, lecturing life lessons. Seeing a tree go through the windshield into a person’s body and piercing his heart; watching a woman slip in the kitchen and literally crack her head open – very graphic. Ugh.  Give me the Geico gecko any day!
  • Not having to wait an extra week/month/year to see the movie or TV show everyone’s talking about. Most movies come out later in the UK and many TV shows are at least a week – if not a season – behind the US.
  • Toll booths. Yes, toll booths – so that you KNOW you have to pay a toll. Beware if you drive in London M-F from 7 am – 6 pm: you have to pay the congestion charge but there’s nowhere that you actually stop and pay it!
  • Dunkin’ Donuts. Iced tea, coffee coolata, munchkins.

And for me personally… 

  • Impromptu texts from my cousin like ‘want to get an ice cream?’
  • Grabbing a DVD and spending the evening on my best friend’s couch watching and gabbing.
  • Family dinners.
  • Crafts with my goddaughters.
  • Best of all: being here for my weddings, showers,  and all the other fun family events. Definitely can’t get that in London! 

What do you love about the USA?

PS – I must add that Nick really thought that to be fair I should do 15 things I love about London. I explained I think i’ve done that and am constantly saying all I miss about London, but now need to focus on the positive of being HERE. So to clarify, this in no way implies I don’t still love London …

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So here are some random updates:

  • On August 25 I will be guest blogging on onetravel.com. I wrote about my favorite London spots – the must-do things for London visitors. It was all fresh in my mind as I tried to revisit all those places during my final weeks in the UK. I really like the onetravel.com blog because it features travel bloggers from around the world, so it’s a great mix and lots of interesting reads.
  • Speaking of travel blogs, I’ve added a couple of travel blog links to my home page, including one written by my friend Laura who just moved to Tokyo for (almost) a year. Talk about a different way of life! You should definitely check it out.
  • With the realization that I can finally begin planning, I went to AAA today and not only renewed Nick and my memberships but also got a US map. I LOVE maps! And now I can start figuring out where the heck I’m going to go on this road trip. A few of us were trying to guesstimate the number of miles I’ll drive (maybe we should have a pool?) but there’s really no telling until I figure out where I’m going – and in what order. I have the feeling I’m going to be zigzagging a lot…
  • Speaking of AAA, I highly recommend anyone in the US becoming a member if you’re not already. The discounts alone are worth it (many retail stores, amusement parks, movie theaters, hotels, etc.). And you get free maps, travel books (they said there’s no limit – wait until I am ready for those!), towing, assistance if your battery dies or you lock your keys in the car – so many benefits for a small annual fee. I already bought discount movie passes, and of course got that free map. Now to get out my highlighter. Although maybe I better start with a pencil…

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You CAN go home again, but …

I’ve been meaning to post an update because I realized I left things hanging a bit, but life has just been all consuming since I got back. Apologies for it taking so long! (When I first arrived in England someone told me that if you start by saying ‘apologies’ all will be forgiven no matter what it is – and I did find it to be true much of the time!) Anyway, I really am sorry for neglecting my blog and promise to be better from now on, especially since the road trip is quickly approaching.

So much has happened in the past two and a half weeks, I hardly know where to begin. I guess I’ll start at the end of the last post: yes,  I did stop crying on the plane, and yes, I did have a big smile when I saw all my family and friends. But it hasn’t been all good. I have to say, Marion’s comment about my last blog was right on: “You can go back home, but it’s never quite the same as it was before…not so much because IT has changed, but because YOU have!” In fact, I’ve experienced more culture shock moving back home than I did going to London – not at all what I expected. I won’t go into all the details as I don’t want to dwell on them and am somewhat getting over it, but let’s just say it hasn’t been easy and if it wasn’t for my family and friends being here, I’d move back in a heartbeat.

I want to focus on the positive:

  • We got to see LOTS of family and friends, including several of those from Florida and West Virginia. We had a house full for a while but it was so much fun – like one big sleepover!
  • Speaking of the house – it was as bad as I anticipated.  But there are positives to this too! My mom, Mark and Katrina (and Seth with the lawn) did their best to make it nice although I don’t think anything would make me want to be there.  Other family, especially my brother and sister-in-law , also really helped while they were there. (And Ally, I still can’t believe you cleaned my fridge!) The best part was the yard sale and the dumpster, which was completely filled. Literally getting rid of most everything I could definitely helped! It will now be ok until I can sell it and finally move on.
  • We bought two new cars. No, I didn’t go with the Mustang, but I did listen to many of my friends who gave advice through this blog and followed my heart AND my head. I got  a 2010 silver Volvo S40. I always wanted one like that and absolutely love it. And while I was looking for certified preowned as some suggested, I ended up with similar – a car that had been used by the dealer so has some miles on it, but was officially new.  The dealership was great (Steingold Volvo in Pawtucket, RI) – very straightforward, easy to deal with and relaxed even as Mark checked over every single spec of the car (he literally said to the poor guy ‘I’m your worst nightmare’ – hee hee). I definitely recommend them. Then – after a zillion hours of searching on Craig’s List and finding cars that weren’t exactly as described – we lucked out on a car for Nick, too. Uncle Tom brought us to some car dealer friends of his at Rojo Auto Sales on Rt. 1 in Norwood and we got a great deal on a 2001 white Volvo S80 for Nick. So he’s in seventh heaven, too. And I’m just glad to have it all over with!
  • Phones – as many of you know, that was a dilemma too. I did decide to stick with Verizon as they seem to have the best nationwide coverage which will be important when I’m travelling the country. Nick stuck with the Blackberry and got the latest Curve (so he can bbm for free with Alivia), while I went for the brand new Droid X. It took forever to get and many hours at the Verizon store and on the phone with Verizon, but now all is up and running. Am really liking it – it seems to be able to do all I need and want it to. The only major downside is the battery life -it doesn’t even last a whole day when you’re on it a lot. But I have the car charger and will be on the road a lot so will just keep it charged, and will probably buy an extra battery. I thought the size would bother me too, being so big, but I haven’t had any real issues with that.  
  • I’m back to work for my final weeks and that is going great. I am so enjoying being in the office and seeing the people I’ve worked with for most of the last fifteen years. I’m thankful for this chance to say goodbye. I will miss everyone, but I won’t miss the hour and a half commute to Waltham! Luckily, I still believe I’m doing the right thing (even though I’m also still scared to death) and know I can keep in touch with everyone through this blog, facebook, email, etc.

So yes, I am really, really missing London and everything and everyone there, but am going to try to put that out of my mind and focus on the road trip. I am now officially giving myself permission to start planning – woo hoo! Time to get out the maps, US guidebooks, talk to AAA, explore other road trip Web sites, and start connecting with all the people I want to visit along the way. Keep sending your tips, suggestions, places to see, people to visit, songs to listen to, etc. I’m open to anything! Well, almost anything…

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