I began a Sabbatical on May 2, 2012. Below is a running commentary on packing very, very lightly for nine weeks away from home with only a 22 inch suitcase in which to take all I’ll need.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
I’ve been gone from home now nearly eight weeks. It’s hard for me to believe–but I leave London five days from now, and then have another week with NYC before heading back to Texas to put together in some coherent form all I’ve been thinking and writing about during this time. I have now become so very comfortable with my extremely limited wardrobe that I just don’t think about it much any more.
The only items of clothing I purchased were a couple of rain hats. I lost my faithful one that I’d had for years in NYC, and just can’t get along without one as I refuse to carry an umbrella and rain has been pretty constant here. I did seriously consider an extra pair of jeans, as that was my big packing mistake, and spent a little time shopping for them. Then I just changed my mind. I knew I could do without them, and once I figured that out, have done just fine.
At this point, I figured I’ve walked between 150 and 200 miles since I left home, all in my sturdy loafers. No special walking shoes necessary. I’ve rarely worn the one pair of dressier sandals, but will tonight as Jonathan, Adriana and I are going out to dinner together and I’ll want them. The flipflops worked for some shorter walks and around the house and will be very handy in NYC where it is much warmer.
I am going to miss this family very much. It is a relaxed Saturday morning here, and we all took our time this morning. Nearly 10:30 and children are still in pajamas, enjoying rare playtime together and very happy. Jonathan went to the gym early today and I took a good walk, and then we sat down to our usual gourmet breakfast, prepared by Adriana, and had a great conversation. Adriana is now singing with her gorgeous contralto voice to the accompaniment of Latin music.
Tomorrow is the last time I’ll see Jonathan on this trip. He’s flying to the Middle East Sunday afternoon, and gets back in Wednesday morning, about the time I need to head to the airport to catch my plane to NYC. We might be able to cross paths there, but I’m not counting on it. It’s OK–I’ve never needed my sons to dance attention on me, and I’m very aware of his sweet and kind love for his mother.
Saturday, June 2
One of the essential items I packed was my pedometer. Years ago, I invested in a good quality one (Omron) and with a battery replacement about every six months, it has served me faithfully.
I’ve always loved to walk–it relaxes my brain, energizes my body, and helps me connect the dots of my life. But just because I love to walk doesn’t mean I always walk faithfully. Part of my hopes for this trip included getting back into long walks. I’m finally getting there.
The house that Jonathan and his family rent in the London suburb of Carshalton is quite close to two large forested walking areas. Both areas have lots of paths (and no markings as to what is going where) and walking through them gives me new appreciation for the perils of Hansel and Gretel as they were led into the woods. I really do understand the fear of getting lost in them. With the tall trees making it nearly impossible to see the sky, and rapidly growing spring plants coming close to hiding some of the paths, I did have a few moments both yesterday and day of wondering if I would ever find my way out again. But, obviously, I did, and enjoyed each walk thoroughly.
Because of getting slightly lost and needing to retrace my steps at one point, I walked five miles this morning, with the last mile 100% uphill. It gives me such joy to see some strength returning to my body again. Although I was tired when I finally reached the house, it was a good tired and the kind that re-energizes quickly. Thursday, I walked nearly nine miles–had gone to London to attend worship at Holy Trinity Brompton (will post about powerful worship experience later) and then wandered in Hyde Park for quite a while.
All this in a pair of very good quality loafers. Again, trying to pack so lightly, I packed just two pair of shoes (flip flops and dressier sandals in addition to the ones I wore. These loafers (SAS) are handcrafted out of really good leather, last forever, are extraordinarily comfortable and great for problem feet, which I have. I also have a pair of walking shoes made by them, but chose not to bring them and trust that these alone would work. They’ve been wonderful. Very much worth the investment.
I probably am going to have to break down and get another pair of jeans, but will see if I can hold on a while longer. What I didn’t pack enough of was lightweight clothing, figuring it would be pretty cool here. But the last two weeks were quite warm, so the few things I had for that weather got a lot of wear. However, the chill is back–probably won’t get above 52 degrees tomorrow with much rain, so can go back to layering for warmth.
Monday, May 21
Jonathan left very early today for several stops in Europe and the Middle East, kids woke up really happy to go to school, and Adriana spent the morning there as the room mother of her four year old’s class as they are planning for the Queen’s Jubilee in June and also for next year, when all those in this class now start a full-day pre-school program. Right now, he goes all day only twice a week.
A little while ago, Adriana left to pick up Joshua while Sami decided to stay with me. At first he played quietly by himself and I was able to keep writing in Jonathan’s study. But about 45 minutes ago, he came in here with his dinosaur, several toy cars, and a non-stop series of observations about pirates and pirate ships and dinosaurs and cars and God and behaving himself and then began instructing me in the fine arts of Angry Birds (the only game of any interest to him on my IPad). He just won with two birds!!!!! Nothing like discovering again the joy of little things.
OK, I am now learning about red and blue blood in the body, have been shown the electrical circuit box and the hot water heater in the house and have been instructed about the electricity flowing to my IPad and the attached keyboard (both are charging right now). He has just discovered a drawing app I didn’t know I had. Joshua has come home and they are cooperating on a picture right now. Whoops–just switched back to Angry Birds.
Yes, I’m too old for children again, but the IPad may be one of the world’s greatest inventions.
Did laundry yesterday. Wardrobe holding well. I was smart to pack lightweight clothes that I could layer. When going for a short walk a while ago, I had on a long sleeved shirt, a lightweight sweater and a silk zip jacket. That, along with a lightweight hat and gloves, kept me comfortably warm but not overheated. Yes, this is a British spring. But tomorrow is supposed to hit 75 (or 24 Centigrade and I’m trying to adjust to those numbers) and we’re all looking forward to it.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Last night, Adriana and I stayed up late working on getting the house decorated so Joshua would find his birthday celebrated from the time he got up. He had four small gifts waiting–more on Saturday when the party takes place–all 25 kids, with parents and siblings. I’ve promised all my help–with the understanding that Adriana will open the wine as soon as all go home!!
I lost my rain hat in NYC and that has been a huge problem for me here in London as the rain resumed yesterday. I hate umbrellas and have used a hat for years. That particularly one I lost was my favorite–bought it for $4.00 at least ten years ago. I supposed it was fully amortized by now.
I just couldn’t find one here when I looked on Friday, so ordered one online. It has now arrived! I’m off to take a good long walk now. It is not raining at the moment, but probably will again soon.
Cheerio and all that sort of thing . . .
Monday, May 14, 2012
It’s been a wild morning here. Joshua, who turns six tomorrow, woke in the middle of the night not feeling well and with a rash on his arm–probably the result of necessary vaccinations a couple of weeks ago. So I told Adriana that I’d watch him while she took Sami to school. Essentially, he talked non-stop to me all morning. Mid-morning, Adriana’s sister, Rocio, stopped by for coffee. Rocio is a hyper-high energy person whose life is always totally chaotic, and although I like her enormously, sometimes it stresses me just being in the room with her. About the time she left, Jonathan arrived after an overnight flight from the US where he had flown on Friday after learning that his dad needs open heart surgery (quadruple bypass–three arteries 100% blocked, very serious and scary situation and the three sons have all made plans to be there on a rotating basis) and wanted to spend a bit of time with him ahead of time. With his entrance, Joshua went into major active mode. A couple of hours ago, loud Latin music was playing in the kitchen, loud children’s music was on in the playroom where Joshua was singing at the top of his voice to it, Jonathan was looking for Adriana who was probably escaping somewhere because I think he doesn’t have a clean shirt and he has to get back to Heathrow soon for a series of meetings this afternoon (his driver showed up about fifteen minutes ago and Jonathan has now left–he uses a driver for this type of thing since they only have one car), I was hovering over the laundry desperate for my jeans–my one big mistake in packing light was only putting in one pair of jeans–and waiting for my IPad to charge (takes twice as long here–probably has to do with the converter that has to be used on all US appliances) so I could settle down to write and I was cold. Just plain cold. The British just don’t heat their houses much, but to get something warmer meant walking back up the stairs and I didn’t want to do that until my jeans were dry (stairs still very hard on me and the last couple of days I am finally back to where I was nearly three weeks ago when I started doing to much and went into the awful cycle of continually re-injuring myself and pulling stitches). In the midst of all this, Adriana left to pick up Sami from school (he goes half days three days a week, and full days the other two), but is now back and is starting some sort of delicious lunch while the boys are playing reasonably amicably together in the playroom. I’m longing for a walk, but it is raining and I lost my rain hat in NYC. Adriana and I looked for one after I got here, but couldn’t find what I needed. I’ve ordered one from Amazon, but it won’t be here for another couple of days.
As I was waiting for the clothes to dry, I reflected on the fact that they actually have a clothes dryer. Everyone here uses clotheslines–there is one (actually a clothes-tree, which is far better) in everyone’s backyard. While lots of people have washing machines as they can be fairly easily plumbed in these old houses by connecting them to the same drain as the kitchen sink, dryers are a different story. First is the space issue, and second is the venting issue. So getting clothes dry is a constant dance of watching the rain. I had hung the first wash of the morning out on the line, but they had to come in a couple of hours later as rain threatened. We’re lucky–there is a small area between the kitchen and the garage which is really open to the outside, but has plastic porch roofing over it where there is a small clothesline AND the blessed clothes dryer. Today, it was also the warmest spot in the house as the dryer just vents into that spot so I’d go out there to get warm. Now, with the dryer off, the day’s damp chill will have settled firmly in that space. By now, I’ve got on two pairs of socks, a scarf around my neck, and a shawl to wrap around my legs and am comforted with a cup of hot tea.
May 11, 2012
Am a bit behind in my travel journal, mostly precipitated by continued challenges with healing and because of travel and getting online again. Yesterday, I flew comfortably from JFK Airport in New York to Heathrow in London. No longer trying to play superwoman, I had agreed to a private driver to the airport who was charged by my son to make sure I was placed immediately into a wheelchair upon arrival at JFK to keep me from any chance of having to carry anything or pushing or pulling my bag. All worked beautifully, and because the flight was quite empty and with my “invalid” status, I was also given the more comfortable bulkhead seat on the plane.
An uneventual flight and seven hours later got me to London. Jonathan, my son who lives here, texted me to find the driver he had ordered and to wait for him. He had unexpectedly arrived from Amsterdam the same time I came in, so we could ride home together.
Because of my wheelchair status, I was swept through the normally interminable immigration line, quickly found my bag, and was deposited by the wheelchair attendant with the car driver. We had to wait quite a while for Jonathan. Normally, he goes through immigration in seconds because he has qualified to enter through the “Iris Eye Reader” method of identification. However, he had arrived at another terminal at Heathrow where the eye reader was out of order and the immigration officials on strike, so he was stuck in a long line..
A gentle hour long drive later through primarily residential areas with leisurely catch-up conversation, we came to Jonathan’s house in Carshalton, a southern suburb of London. A few minutes later, Jonathan brought my bag to the upstairs bedroom that shall be my home for the next seven weeks and said, “You have done an amazing job packing. I can’t believe you are going this long with a bag this light and small.” It was a high compliment!
Five minutes later, with my bag unpacked for the first time in ten days, I surveyed my meager wardrobe and breathed a silent prayer of thanks for washing machines and dryers (or clotheslines, weather permitting).
So, a friend has asked how I’m going to get through my reading list, take notes, annotate them, write and live with such a limited number of things with me.
Here’s the plan: ALL books I’m reading are on my Kindle, and I can read them there on or the IPad. Because I am not doing academic, scholarly writing where each quote or idea must be meticulously documented, I will just use the bookmark and highlight functions on my Kindle to mark the ideas of special interest and will document thoughts and ideas of others with attribution to author, book and chapter, but not specific page.
All the initial writing is done on my IPad using QuickOfficePro as my text editor. There may be better programs than this, but I’ve had it a while and will keep using it. When I am able to get online (sons’s homes and apartments all have wifi), I can sync the documents with two online sites, either google docs or dropbox.
Then, when I can use a real computer (generally not a problem in any place I am staying), I can access those documents, bring them into a more robust word processing program and edit them as necessary.
For air travel, the Ipad and Kindle both are carried with me. That has been a problem, because I just shouldn’t lift anything right now and why I needed the wheelchair assist on this last flight. However, in more normal circumstances, they are an easy lift for me in the purse/backpack I’ve brought along. I also have a small rolling bag I could have brought, but that will be less handy on the many rambles I intend to take around London in the next few weeks. A backpack will work far better.
I use an external keyboard/case for my Ipad that I bought at Brookstone. The keyboard has a 100 hour chargeable battery life (the IPad key board uses AA batteries and that just didn’t interest me). I do find the keyboard challenging–some of the keys are just in the wrong place for me, but overall, for simply getting ideas out of my head and onto paper, it’s not bad.
Right at the moment, I’m writing at the health and fitness club that Jonathan and Adriana belong to. I’m sitting in the lounge area overlooking the indoor pool, where Joshua (6 this coming week) and Sami (4 1/2) are having swimming lessons. Joshua has always loved water and have never had any fear at all of putting his face in and going under. I think he’ll make a great swimmer someday. He’s using a kick board to move competently from one end to the other of this good sized pool. Sami, generally the better athlete with track and field sports, has less comfort in the pool so the lessons are a bit slower for him. I just looked up again at them, and saw them both tackling the crawl stroke. Pretty neat.
We’ll head back to their place shortly, fix a simple evening meals and I shall head to bed. Just need to stay asleep all day today and get a solid night tonight and jet lag should be conquered for this trip.
Jonathan made a snap decision to fly to the US today to see his dad who has unexpectedly and unhappily discovered four nearlly totally blocked cardiac arteries and will have a quadruple bypass next week. Jonathan wanted to see him before the surgery, and I think he made the best decision. Joshua and Sami have warmed quickly to me and I look forward to good hours with them this weekend.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
OK, it has been a week of living out of my suitcase now. In Dan and Ashley’s small apartment, this was the only option. It is getting to me, and today I shall pull everything out and repack to fly to London tomorrow. For the most part, I originally packed well enough that I could find what I needed fairly quickly, but by now it is just a jumble. I shall also be glad to see a washing machine on Friday. I could have sent some things out here, but it is mostly delicates that need washing, and I’d rather just wait and do them myself. I did pack enough that I knew I could go a full week without needing to do laundry, so I’m grateful for that foresight. One shirt that I thought would go another day was the beneficiary of a big baby spit up, and a couple of others would just be best not to be worn again without a laundering. Jeans could also stand a wash, but they’ll make it a few more wearings. Probably two pair would have been a good idea, but had planned to shop for another pair before I left and couldn’t because of the ongoing healing from the surgery.
And that is a whole other story. Am still not healing well. Just too much activity. Phoned my doctor yesterday and talked with her PA. She cautioned me to be very still and I have barely moved now for over 36 hours. Somewhat better, but am dreading flying tomorrow. Private car picking me up at the apartment at 6 am and a wheelchair will be waiting at the drop off point at JFK.
The forced inactivity did give me some time to write ahead a newspaper article, and wonderful conversation with Ashley. Am enjoying getting to know her much better.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Thursday night, Dan, Ashley and I went to “Old Jew Telling Jokes,” a hilarious pre-broadway opening that we enjoyed from beginning to end.
Friday, after a slow start, and sleeping as late as possible, I finally got my act together, took a taxi to the East Side, and joined David, Shawna and the kids for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Later, Kate took me to a park five blocks away. Watching her navigate the streets of NYC really blew me away. She’s not yet five, but confidently know when to cross, and when NOT to cross a street without any help from adults, enjoyed the park, wheedled an ice cream out of me, and then competently led the way home.
Later, Dan, Ashley and I babysat the children so David and Shawna could get their first night out just the two of them after McKinzie’s birth three weeks ago. Frankly, it took all three of us to care for the children, reminding me of how challenging it was for me when I also had three children under five (this pattern runs for generations in my family).
Today, we all met at a playground in Central Park where the older two children played and then went to a restaurant that was billed as “kid-friendly.” And it was, with a TV screen at each table playing kid favorites, a simple kid menu and a very, very expensive adult menu. Both Kate and Wesley enjoyed their meal there and then David, Daniel, Kate and Wesley and I headed to the Museum of Natural History while the two moms and baby went back to the Upper West Side apartment to rest.
We had a fabulous time at the museum and the children both enjoyed it and behaved beautifully–despite the fact that Wesley missed his nap completely. The three kid family later headed back to the East Side and David and Ashley fixed me a lovely dinner with pomegranate martinis as the first course. Pretty nice.
Now, the three of us are listening to oldies music, relaxing and catching up on our emails and other computer stuff. Really nice day.
Silk jogging suit jacket coming in very handy. Just the right weight for a somewhat chilly day here. So far, doing fine with this very limited wardrobe.
Thursday, May 3 2012
Travel very rough on my body, and need to be very still today and see if the damage I caused yesterday wil repair itself today. Am settling in for the moment in the small but lovely apartment of my youngest son on West 84th St. The building is probably not more than 100 yards from Central Park, so will do a short walk there today. Will be living out of the suitcase this week–no place to unpack anything here. Am rearraging it so I can find what I need easily without making the space too messy.
This apartment has about 450 sq feet. Old building, but renovated apartment, so very modern kitchen and bath, one tiny bedroom, two tinier closets, and a 10×12 foot living space which is also my bedroom for the week. My artistic daughter-in-law has done a fabulous job decorating the place and it is amazingly liveable.
Wed, May 2, 2012
OK, like it or not, I’m flying out today. My son tried to change my ticket, but it was booked through an airline out of a Middle East country, and their idea of doing something quickly just doesn’t connect with the US idea of doing something quickly. Not to mention that they have my name wrong on the tickets. My legal name and the name on my passport is Mary Christine Thomas. In their system, it shows up as Mary Thomas/Christine. Both Jonathan and I tried to fix it, but they stubbornly said that they had it right. Going to be interesting when I board the London flight. The agent here at DFW just laughed and gave me my boarding pass.
Anyway, I packed yesterday, and think I am actually set for nine weeks away with a versatile and washable wardrobe. Have jacket and warm ups for cooler weather in London, comfortable lighter weight things for NYC. Luxury silk pajamas and robe take up almost no space and will be great for less private sleeping/bath conditions in NYC. Three pairs of shoes only. One with a slight heel for dressier occasions, sturdy and comfortable walking shoes for the hundreds of miles I hope to walk, and a pair of flip-flops for everything else. I paid the bag check fee gladly. No way to wrestle with that.
The only problem for me is the stuff I need to carry on. I have in the past put that in a very small rolling bag. BUT, I can’t lift that into the overhead bin right now, and some airlines are configured so it won’t fit under the seat. I’ve instead used a really nice leather backpack/purse that I picked up in Colombia a number of years ago. The necessary electronics (IPad, Kindle) fit great and there is room enough for a few travel needs. BUT, even with as little as I can in there, it probably weighs around 10 pounds, and that is really a little more than I should be picking up right now.
Kind of stuck with it. I noticed on my boarding pass that I’m in the first group to board although I am sitting near the front and would normally board last. Probably because of the wheelchair assist I asked for. Fine with me.
The adventure has begun!
May 1, 2012
Well, a little setback today. Am not sure I’m healed enough from my surgery to be able to fly tomorrow, so my son who arranged the ticket for me is seeing if he can change it to Thursday. In the meantime, I’m slowly putting out the things I will take in case I do leave in the morning. No matter what, I have ordered a wheelchair at the airport. I hate doing this, but it is clear that I am hindering my healing by being too active, and walking and standing for long hours at the airport is not a good idea. One good thing: when I land in Heathrow next week, it will get me through their interminable customs lines faster!
April 30, 2012: Recharging Batteries
When I left church yesterday, one of my church members hugged me and said, “it’s time to recharge your batteries.” I so agreed. Now, as I prepare to pack, I took an inventory of what I’ll need to keep the batteries of my electronic gadgets re-charged. I’ll be taking three pieces of electronics. IPhone, IPad, and Kindle. IPhone and IPad use the same charger, BUT the keypad I use with my IPad needs a different charger–a mini USB port. So does the Kindle, BUT the keyboard and Kindle use different sized mini-USB ports!!!! Enough to drive me crazy. OK, I’ll take one charger for both phone and IPad, the necessary one for the keyboard, because that’s my writing instrument on my travels, leave the Kindle one at home, trusting I’ll find one of those at both’s places I’m staying as they all also use the Kindle for reading.
Now I’m off to the AT&T store to talk about options for using my IPhone in London. Was going to just buy a simple prepaid phone over there to keep in touch in case I’m lost, but am thinking I really am going to want google maps available to me as I wander the labyrinth byways of London. I’ve already learned this from my two other trips there: it is not possible to simply walk around a block. Just can’t be done.
April 29, 2012: The Beginning
In early May, 2012, I begin a different adventure: a three month sabbatical. I will be gone from home the first nine weeks, with that time split between New York City and London, England. In both places I have grown sons, lovely daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and free places to stay.
I have two different book projects I am working on that I hope to get roughed out while I am away, along with significant rest and refreshment.
But now, the real challenge: putting everything I need for this time into a 22 inch long suitcase.
This particular suitcase was a gift from American Eagle about 13 years ago, after their luggage handlers decided to have a night of shuffleboard with my bag. With the old one damaged beyond repair, and NOT the usual wear and tear of travel, some persistence on my part lead to its replacement.
It’s an OK bag, and has taken me to Canada, Colombia, Australia, France, England and many other spots. The lock is long gone, and I secure it with a fabric strap now.
Long ago, I mastered light packing, as I resolved never to pack a bag heavier than I could pick up myself. This time, I can’t honor that promise as recent abdominal surgery means I can’t pick up anything right now. Even so, nine weeks with this small bag is going to be interesting.
One of the scenes I particularly like in the movie, The Chronicles of Narnia, is the time when the four Pevensie children first leave London during the bombing and head to the country. We see them left forlornly at a railway station, waiting for someone to pick them up. They have almost no luggage–and they would be at their destination for an unknown period of time. My understanding is that this was normal for those children being evacuated from London: they were sent off with a small parcel of clothes. And nothing else.
Definitely something to be said about that. Pare down to the absolute necessities, and live light.
We’ll see how this goes.