Returning Home

Trips to Columbus, Ohio are always confusing to me. I never know which direction should be referred to as “going home.” I once wrote that home is where your bed is. By that criteria, I guess Chattanooga is our home destination. However, having spent nearly 40 years living in Columbus, the paltry 3 we’ve lived in Chattanooga have not been enough to erase the feeling of returning home when we head North on 75.

This last trip North ended the longest stretch I’ve gone to date between trips to Columbus. It’s been long enough that I can’t actually remember when my last trip up was, but I know it wasn’t in this calendar year. With my remaining family all living elsewhere these days and many of my friends having moved away as well, it sometimes catches me off guard how much Columbus still feels like home. When I think about what makes it feel homey, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I know how to get to every place I want to go without using GPS. If one route has traffic, I know another route, also without GPS.
  2. I can come up with restaurants I want to eat at based on style of food, quality of adult beverages, particular favorite dishes, or outdoor ambience. (I confess, I did have to check with several restaurants on whether they allow dogs on their patio or not–Tisen came along on this trip.)
  3. I know where the “bad” parts of town are.
  4. I know where the best camera shops in town are and which ones carry Canon gear.
  5. I have a doctor and a dentist there.
  6. I know where to go for a safe pedicure without an appointment.
  7. Graeter’s Ice Cream is available just about everywhere–even Costco.
  8. The biggest problem is trying to fit everyone we want to see into a few days and realizing we’re not going to be able to get to see many of the people we’d love to catch up with.
  9. We have a place to stay where there is a room just for us and our dog is welcome (and offers from several other friends to stay with them)–I guess we do have a bed in Columbus.

This trip was timed around the Columbus Guitar Show. It was my first time working a show (although I’ve attended a couple before). Manning the booth and giving away T-shirts to people who participated in my marketing campaign turned out to be both fun and exhausting.

One of the best things about our timing was that we were in Chattanooga for the beginning and end of the Riverbend Festival, but missed the middle of the 9-day event. This means we didn’t get tired of the extra people and traffic in the downtown area. And, we were home in time for the fireworks–out of all the fireworks in Chattanooga, the Riverbend fireworks are by far the best and longest display.

The Deserted Office, Desserts, and Death

Today is Wednesday.  No workout this morning.  No face-to-face meetings scheduled.  But my calendar is full of conference calls.  When Pat drops me off at the office, I go upstairs to discover an empty floor.  Those who were there the day before are all either off, working from home, or traveling today.  There is no one to say hello to, no one to catch up with, not even anyone to ignore.  I find this oddly distracting.  Given that I even have calls through lunch, I find myself wondering why I bothered to come in at all.  I do not rate a window office, so I sit in my empty office with no view and miss my home office with a fantastic view.

An interesting thing I have learned about myself in the age of ADD:  I need low-level distractions in order to focus.  It’s as if I need to give the “Squirrel!” part of my brain something to do so that it stops nagging at the rest of my brain when I’m trying to concentrate.  Background noise at the office helps.  Just knowing there are people outside my door helps.  When I work at home, I have an easier time remaining focused on an intense task when my husband is home doing something on his own than if I’m home alone.  I’ve found that listening to music helps in the absence of other distractions, but that’s not possible when on conference calls.  Within an hour, I am coming out of my skin.

I don’t know what exactly it is that I experience when there is not enough going on at once–is it anxiety, boredom, hyper-activeness?  I’m not sure.  All I know is that I begin to work on one thing, I think of something else and open that, then I think of something else and open that.  All while I’m on a conference call.  Before I know it, I have about 40 documents open, 8 instant message conversations going, I’m halfway through answering 9 emails, and I’m in a complete state of confusion as to whether I’ve actually accomplished anything or not.

Complicating this state of task-hopping (let’s face it, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking) is the memory factor.  Another thing I’ve learned about the scattered mind combined with a faulty memory is: when I start to do something, it often creates a memory of having done it.  Whatever the function is in my brain that checks of to-do items, starting a task can trigger that little check.  Once the item is mentally checked, I forget all about it.  So, the more task-hopping I do, the more items I’m at risk of believing I’ve completed when in fact, they are only partially done.  To combat this, before I close things, I carefully look at each window I’ve opened, figure out why I’ve opened it, and then determine if that item is complete or not.  When I have a day like today with back-to-back conference calls where I’m able to just listen for my name during the first one (giving me the opportunity to open a lot), but the rest of them I have to listen and participate (preventing me from finishing anything I opened during the first call), I will often get to the end of the day and not have time to do a graceful shutdown, so-to-speak.  Then, I put my laptop to sleep and hope it will wake up later and that I will remember where I was with all the stuff that’s still open.  Of course, the more stuff I leave open, the more likely my laptop will hang and require a reboot, which essentially reboots my memory right along with the laptop.

It’s the end of the day, we have dinner plans with friends we haven’t seen in two months, and, as predicted, I have too many things open and must put my laptop to sleep and clean up later.  Given that our friends are expecting a baby in about 2 weeks, I imagine we will not be out late and I will have time for this tonight.  But, I hate going to dinner with things hanging unfinished both on my laptop and in my mind.

After a day of isolation, getting together with friends is even more welcome.  Our friends include a little one who arrives in his mother’s arms half asleep.  I try to remember what it feels like to have to jerk yourself out of sleep, rouse yourself and be social.  He’s only 4–too young to have learned that skill set yet.  He wants to be held by his mother, tiny and nearly 9 months pregnant.  She holds him and I wonder how that’s possible.

Our small friend does come to life during dinner.  He makes it through his meal with the promise of ice cream dancing in his head.  There is a Graeter’s next door.  Even though we still have Graeter’s in the freezer at our hosts’ house, I am just as excited about going next door after dinner as the 4-year old.

Outside, there is an event for a dog rescue.  One woman has a tiny Chihuahua on a leash.  He poops toothpaste-consistency yellow poop on the patio without his owner noticing.  I think back to our Mastiffs and how I used to tell my friends that with Mastiff poop, you worry more about tripping over it than stepping in it.  The Chihuahua’s poop is about 1/40th the size, just like the dog.

I watch as first one dog steps in the soft pile, then another.  I tell a volunteer and she gets out a bag, but before she can clean it up, the Chihuahua owner steps on it, completely covering the mess with her Ugg boot.  Amazingly, when she takes another step, it’s as if the entire pile has desinegrated and been absorbed into her sole and the patio pavers, leaving only discoloration behind.  The volunteer looks at me and says, “Was it her dog who pooped?” I answer in the affirmative and she winks and says, “Retribution!”

After enjoying a scoop of pumpkin pie ice cream, watching the dogs, and watching our small friend attempt to play “Cone Hole” (Graeter’s humor–an ice cream place’s name for “Corn Hole”), we say our good-byes and head on home.  It’s barely 8:00PM.

When we arrive at our hosts’ house, we eat some more ice cream and talk about the news of Steve Jobs’ death.  Oddly, I feel more likely to buy an iPhone 4S because Steve Jobs died.  There is no logic to this and I cannot explain it.  We ponder what the impact will be on Apple and whether they can continue his legacy when he was so heavily involved in the details.

I find myself wondering what his personal life was like, if he was happy, if the legacy of Apple was worth whatever he sacrificed.  I wonder what was most important to him and if he believed, in the end, that he lived his life according to his values and his priorities or if he struggled with regrets over the things he didn’t do.  Then, I begin to wonder if building something like Apple is more or less important or valuable than building a family or anything else that someone dedicates their life to.  But, this is too deep for contemplation right before bed, so I let the thought drift away as we say our goodnights and head upstairs.

Fitting in Friends

On the second day in Columbus, I start off my day by working out with my old workout partners. By old, I mean “former,” because I am not far enough behind them in age to call them old. This means getting up early enough to get completely ready and wake Pat up so he can get up and take me to the gym by 7:00AM. When I get there, I drop off my stuff in the locker room and head outside for my familiar loop through the local park. When I make it to the restored prairie area, I’m surprised by a new crop of yellow flowers blowing brilliantly against the browning foliage. It’s beautiful in the sunrise glow–I enjoy this start to my day.

The workout is more of a social event, although one of my partners isn’t there. We catch up on what’s going on and swap gossip while we workout. The workout goes by quickly and I’m soon on my way to the locker room and then rushing off to my office. The morning flies by and before I know it, it’s time to take one of my friends out for her birthday. We debate where to go and then decide on the Longhorn Steakhouse, not to be confused with the Longhorn diner in Chattanooga. When we arrive, another friend is sitting at the bar eating by herself. We join her and enjoy catching up. I suppose the odds of running into a colleague at a restaurant that’s right around the corner at lunch aren’t that astronomical, but since going to lunch has become a rarity for most of us, it seems almost miraculous that the three of us have run into each other this way.

At the end of the day, I call Pat in time to get him to come pick me up so we can meet more friends for dinner. Tonight, we are taking our hosts out to dinner. We are all meeting at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I told myself that I was going to try not to eat so badly while in Columbus. After only gaining a couple of pounds during our two weeks in Germany, I will gain 5 in 4 days in Columbus if I don’t have some self-control. Unfortunately, all my resolve dissolves in just a sip of margarita and I find myself ordering a shrimp chimichanga. Oh well, maybe I can walk the fifteen miles to work tomorrow morning.

We eat and laugh, a lot. I wonder how many calories laughter burns? After dinner, Pat and I decide to stop at Graeters to pick up dessert for all four of us. While I don’t exactly understand the mental process that goes from “Oh, my, I’m going to gain weight!” to “we really should eat Graeters while we’re here since we don’t have Graeters in Chattanooga,” once the thought of Graeters Black Raspberry chip ice cream enters my mind, there is no turning back. We pick up two pints of black raspberry chip and a third of mint chip for George.

When we get back to the house, each of us sits around the living room with our bowl of ice cream discussing the announcement of the iPhone 4S and the reaction. I go to bed with my belly full of ice cream and my head full of questions about the new iPhone. I’m not all that excited by the prospect of upgrading, but I’ve been waiting a long time, so I will have to investigate further tomorrow. Right now, sleep is all that’s on my agenda.

Road Swill

Back in Columbus as visitors, we find ourselves eating out every meal.  As much as I love to sit and relax while someone else brings me delicious things to eat, I don’t love what it does to my waistline.  Finding myself back in Columbus with little time or opportunity for exercise or healthy eating, I lament not planning better when it comes to food.

First, there is the road trip cuisine.  I suppose we could plan our road trip differently.  We could, for example, take time to stop in towns along the way and sample decent restaurants instead of focusing on getting to Columbus as quickly as possible and hitting only fast food stops.  But I have an appointment in Columbus at the Apple store.  My dear, sweet iPad suffered a cracked screen when it fell out of my lap and landed on its corner on our concrete balcony.  I feel like a negligent parent that I have so abused what has become such a big part of my life.  “Well, you had your good times,” the Apple store service guy tells me as he takes my battered iPad away and brings me a new one.

But is getting my iPad replaced worth the hit to my health to eat at Wendy’s and Subway for a day?  Maybe for a day.  Unfortunately, my diet doesn’t recover after arriving in Columbus, either.  We start by taking our hosts to La Casita for dinner Sunday night–an old tradition of ours that includes shrimp chimichangas for me.  Not exactly the healthiest choice on the menu.  Then, the next day, I manage a reasonable breakfast at the office cafeteria of cottage cheese and fresh fruit.  I even do OK going out to lunch with a blackened salmon salad, but I’m pretty sure there are at least 1000 hidden calories in the dressing.  But I skipped yoga class in order to spend time with a friend, which means none of those calories have anywhere to go but my waist.  I can’t say I regret that decision.  As much as I love yoga class, I’ve figured out that time with friends has to be my first priority for free time when in Columbus.

After a long day working and taking care of appointments, quick and easy pizza seems like the right choice for dinner.  I manage to contain myself to only 1/4 of a pepperoni pizza.  That’s only 800 calories, right?  About half a day’s worth of calories with plenty of saturated fat, white flour, and not a single vegetable.  What more could I ask for?

On our 2nd full day, I do get a workout in that morning, including a 2-mile walk through a park near the office gym and a 30 minute workout with my training buddies and the gym trainer.  The park surprises me with a new sweep of blooms across the section that is restored prairie–the late summer flowers have blossomed since I last walked here.  Unfortunately, enjoying the flowers doesn’t increase the caloric burn.  And I don’t have time to grab a healthy breakfast because I spend too much time swapping stories at the gym and end up in a rush to get to my first meeting.  I eat chocolate-covered peanut butter cookie things out of the vending machine instead.  Peanut butter is good for you, right?

This rapid, downward spiral from eating a reasonably healthy diet to eating crap out of a vending machine happens to me whenever I travel.  Now that I have hit rock bottom from a nutritional perspective, I take the attitude that I might as well live it up and enjoy whatever sounds good and is convenient.

The peak of my indulgence comes when we go to Z Cucina in Grandview on our last evening in Columbus.  I must have their home made mozzarella appetizer, right?  And Bell’s Oberon beer is on tap, which I can’t find in Chattanooga.  And the red snapper special with the risotto and goat cheese cake cannot be missed.  And Rick, the owner, brings us a piece of lavender-infused blueberry pie with Jenni’s ice cream to top it all off.  I can’t say that I regret that meal–it was too good to have missed–but as I carry my bulging stomach out of the restaurant, I wish it would have been my only indulgence this trip.

Things don’t improve the next day.  I run out of time to eat lunch and end up having a bag of peanuts from my friend, the vending machine.  It’s the healthiest thing in the machine, but the nuts are roasted in oil and salted.  Plus, let’s face it, there’s nothing really satisfying about eating a bag of peanuts for lunch.

The finale to our road trip binge comes at Burger King.  Our last stop on our way home, it’s getting late, we’re hungry and tired.  We pull off at a truck-stop type exit and find the Burger King attached to a gas station.  We are just outside of Knoxville, still an hour and a half from home.  The man behind the counter is older, probably in his early sixties.  When Pat orders a Jr. Whopper with cheese, the many says, “You know it’s not a dollar, right?”  Pat looks at the menu and says, “It’s $1.49, right?”  The man says in a slow drawl, “Well, it’ll be $1.69 with the cheese.”  Pat smiles and says, “OK.”  The man hesitates, as if he’s unsure that Pat really wants to spend that much on his burger.  He explains that they get a lot of visitors from up North and that apparently Jr. Whoppers are only $1 in the North, so people get upset.  Pat reassures him that it’s OK and he rings up the sandwich.  Our mid-western accents have given us away.  While we wait for our food, the man starts telling us about their milkshakes.  He tells us they are made by hand with real ice cream.  He tells us they are really good and we should try them sometime, but they’re a lot of work to make.  He tells us this 3 more times before the burgers come out.  We are unsure as to whether he is trying to sell us a handmade milkshake or trying to prevent us from ordering one because of the effort involved in making them.  We take our sandwiches (with no milkshake) to go.  We are too tired to make small talk about making milkshakes.

Pat and I have frequently talked about how to improve our eating habits during road trips.  We talk about planning our meals and going to the grocery store before we leave so we can have healthy choices readily available and still make good time.  We have often discussed the best type of cooler to get to serve this purpose.  However, we still haven’t bought a cooler and we’ve never made it to the grocery store in advance of a trip.  It seems like such a good idea.  Maybe after I get on the scale I’ll be motivated to try it next time?

Make up, Shoes, and Going Home

After a ride along the river, I come home smelling like somebody else. And not a somebody else I want to be in close proximity to. A shower is in order. In the bathroom, I look in the mirror at my sweat-streaked face and realize I haven’t put on make-up since we moved. I recognize that vacation feeling that makes me feel like I don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks. I guess living somewhere temporarily is freeing in that sense. I don’t have a sense of “I’m going to see these people over and over again.” Plus, working from home means there are no co-workers to see how bad I look without mascara. What is it about feeling away from ‘home’ that changes my attitude? I like it. It makes me want to gobble up every experience there is to have because I feel like I have so little time to enjoy this place I’m in. But, I also know I have enough time to see a lot as long as I don’t procrastinate. And, of course, we can always stay longer.

Now it’s time to pack. After only two weeks we’re returning to Columbus for a few days so I can make sure everyone at the office knows I am still around. 🙂 I realize I don’t know where my travel supplies are–the small bottles of the products I think I need when I’m going to the office, including the small make-up kit that fits nicely into a suitcase and helps me cover the blemishes of age and acne–the former I can’t outrun and the latter I can’t outgrow, but both I can conceal. Then it dawns on me–I haven’t driven a car for 2 weeks. I wonder if I should take my bike?

I look forward to seeing my friends again. I feel like it’s been ages even though we normally don’t see most of our friends for far longer than 2 weeks at a time anyway. I guess because we see different friends every week vs no friends at all for 2 weeks, it feels longer. My husband said he felt like a visitor when he returned last week. I wonder if I’ll feel the same?

For the first time since we left, I have to think about what to wear. It will be nice to get some more use out of my work wardrobe, I suppose. The dust hasn’t accumulated too much on my skirts and jackets yet. They hang slightly rumpled in my closet from being packed into boxes; into a suitcase they go, rumpling all over again. My shoes are neatly stacked, still in their original boxes. Over the years of trying many organization techniques for shoes, I’ve found keeping the boxes to be the best. Boxes stack neatly on the shelf and prevents crushing and stains unlike any rack in the bottom of the closet that I can never seem to use with consistency. Plus, I feel like I just got a new pair of shoes every time I open up a box and remove the paper stuffing. Although I have tried to learn not to buy four-inch heels, I can’t help but enjoy being 6′ 2″ in them, even when my feet are aching.

It’s the one stereotype about women that I embrace–I do love my shoes. Yet, for two weeks, I’ve worn only my Chacos hiking sandals, my biking shoes, and my Vibram Fivefinger trekking shoes. I wonder if my feet will still fit into my narrow heels after so much freedom? I imagine them curling back and refusing to go into my heels out of protest like alien creatures with a mind of their own.  I select a pair of heels that are high enough to keep my hems from dragging but comfortable enough to wear every day.  Since I am taking a small suitcase, I decide one pair of heels will have to do and I select office clothes that will go with the pair I’ve picked.

I place everything into my suitcase, thinking how long it’s been since I packed to visit Columbus–the last time was back in the 90’s when I was doing a 6-month assignment in Dallas.  I remember where my travel toiletries are–they are still at the fitness center at the office in Columbus.  My suitcase looks surprisingly empty for a 5-day trip.  I throw in a jacket, remembering that my friends said that it’s cooled down in Columbus and thinking of how cold I get sitting in my office.  My bag looks fuller, but I wonder briefly if I should take another pair of shoes.  Deciding to keep it simple and forego the extra shoes, I zip up the bag with finality.

As we load into the van and prepare to leave, I look back at our building and wonder if I’ll miss it.  Which place feels more like “home” now?  Columbus, where I spent the vast majority of my life, or Chattanooga, which I’ve enjoyed for 2 weeks?  Often, I think “home” comes down to where your bed is.  There is something about sleeping in your own bed that makes any place feel like it’s your own.  We’ll see.