Throwing In

It’s Monday again.  I get up early, still hurting from Saturday’s adventure on the hang gliding hills.  As I unkink my body getting out of bed, I feel grateful that it’s not a workout day.  I vow that I will take a walk, however, in the hope of loosening up my sore muscles.

Since I also discover that there is no food in the house, I talk Pat into taking a short walk through the park and then a detour to the grocery store.  As we walk through the aisles trying to decide what we need, we realize that we are leaving tomorrow.  We limit ourselves to just enough food for breakfast, hoping the last of the milk will go far enough for two bowls of cereal.

Today is full of meetings.   Meetings where I have to pay attention the whole time, if not actually run the call.  I work late trying to get the things done I couldn’t get done during the day.  As it gets later, I get more stressed, realizing that I have personal work to do to get ready to leave tomorrow, too.

For one, I need to get the photos I will use in my blog ready before I go on the road.  I ran into issues with my photos exceeding my hard drive space on my (in tech years) ancient macbook pro.  After repeatedly spending hours cleaning out extra photos trying to make more space, I finally got tired of it and bought a mac mini server with a total of 1TB of drive space.  I thought I would move everything except my pictures and still have my photos on my laptop.

That didn’t work out.  I still kept running my 120GB drive out of space.  Funny out big 120GB sounded when I bought my macbook pro.

When I downloaded Aperture, Apple’s photo editing software, it turned out to be the final domino.  Not only did Aperture motivate me to start shooting in RAW again, which increased the file size of my photos by a factor of 3, but it also had all kinds of performance problems with my laptop’s 2GB of memory.

Not wanting my mac mini to go to waste, I moved my photo library and Aperture to it and started using it for photo processing.  This, however is not the best set up for a nomad into digital photography and blogging.  It means my pictures are all on a box sitting at home.  Although the server is small enough that I have taken it with me on a couple of road trips, packing a monitor is not practical and trying to use Aperture using “share screens” from my macbook pro is just painfully slow.

I would love to hear if there are other digital-photographer-want-to-be nomads out there who struggle with their IT setup and how they cope.

Today, my tactic is to plan ahead so that the photos I want to use during my trip are already uploaded to my blog site.  It’s been dark a while and the clock is telling me I’m running out of time.  I wrap up the critical things I need to do for work as quickly as I can and then get to work on my pictures.

I cut corners on my photo processing–I make faster decisions about which pictures to use, I don’t give them meaningful titles, and I don’t do much in the way of adjusting. Then I go through the process of exporting them all to small JPEG files and uploading them to wordpress.  Viola!  All pictures for the next 6 days ready to roll.

But, having packed for my blog, I now have to pack for me.  As someone whose job used to be described as a “road warrior” job, I have taken pride in my ability to pack light and quickly.  Part of the joy of traveling for me has come from my ability to minimize the difficulty of packing and hauling crap from one place to another.  Unfortunately, this nomad thing seems to complicate my traveling requirements significantly.

First, there is the fact that we drive most places.  Having a mini-van (or even just a small car) invites me to consider everything I might possibly want to have with me vs looking at what I can fit into one small carry-on and a small backpack.  Second, I feel compelled to take my camera bag at least.  Since I have yet to shoot while on a trip back to Columbus, I talk myself into leaving my heaviest lens and tripod at home as a compromise.  Third, I plan to workout with the group in Columbus, which means I need a workout bag so I can take the stuff I need to get ready for work at the gym.  Fourth, my IT needs have to be met for both home and work, meaning two laptops, an iPad, iPhone, Verizon MiFi, and all the associated power supplies.

I look at my laptop bag, laptop backpack, camera bag, and workout bag piled on the floor and shake my head.  It looks like I’m moving.  Then, I realize I haven’t actually packed any clothes yet.

I am stumped.  What clothes do I need for this trip?  The office clothes are easy enough.  But I have to check the weather forecast to decide what else to bring.  Now I’m in a panic because it’s 11PM, I’m still packing and we’re planning to get an early start in the morning.

I start the behavior that always results in poor packing; I call it “throwing in.”  This is when you stop thinking about what you’re going to wear each day and start just throwing in whatever you see on the basis of “Oh, I might wear this.”  This is how I end up places with 5 shirts that don’t go with a single pair of pants I’ve packed or with 15 pairs of socks and no underwear.

I try to stop myself.  I pull out half of what I’ve thrown in, making sure what’s left will work together, and counting underwear.  Somehow I still end up with a bag so full I have to unzip the expansion zipper to accommodate the bulk.  I set my bag aside and start getting ready for bed.

As I get ready for bed, I keep thinking of things I’ve forgotten to pack–a headband, deodorant, lotion, a brush–basically a myriad of toiletries that I wish I didn’t think I needed, but that I really miss when I go without.  I gather up what I won’t need in the morning and stuff it into my suitcase.  Oh!  My travel makeup kit–I’d forgotten about putting on makeup.

Convinced that I have more than enough stuff to make it through the days in Columbus, I call it a night, setting the alarm for 5:00AM.  But I lay awake in bed for a while, wondering how I could simplify this process and un-clutter my life.  After all, isn’t that one of our biggest goals?  I ponder the “throwing in” response and why the thought of not having one little convenience creates panic.  It’s a little hard to simplify without giving up something.  My last thoughts as I drift off to sleep are about throwing out.

Canadian Pennies and Travel Prep

It’s Saturday morning and we’re leaving for Germany for two weeks tomorrow. We have a day to get ready. I am wide awake and it’s 5AM. The first order of business is to finish up on my backlog of work emails–I had nearly 700 I hadn’t replied to yet when I started this task last night. I’m now down to about 8 emails that I couldn’t clear out quickly, but I don’t want to leave knowing that those are still sitting there with the pile rapidly growing since I won’t have access from Germany. I sit at the computer and do the 6 tasks required to clean up all but 2 of the remaining mails. What’s left is a reminder about an online training class I’m required to take by the end of December and a notice about an administrative request that I want to remember to follow up on when I get back. Satisfied that my backlog is as clear as it’s going to get before I go and feeling pretty happy about only having 2 emails in my inbox for the first time since my last vacation, I set up my out-of-office message and shut down my work laptop so it can take a vacation, too.

That done, I make a list of the odds and ends that need to be taken care of before we go. I’m glad that I learned a long time ago to schedule travel so that I have a non-working day before the trip and another after we get home. I would have been up all night trying to wrap up lose ends if we were leaving today. Having done that before, I know it does not lead to a good start to a vacation, especially not one where we’ll lose 6 hours (mostly of sleep) between here and our destination.

Pat interrupts me and asks if I want to take a walk since we need to go to the bank anyway. Thinking about our 2 hour drive to Atlanta tomorrow followed by over 9 hours on a plane, I decide getting a walk in is important.

We head down to the riverfront, walking around the wetland to get there. We spot a Great Blue Heron standing in the water and stop to watch. Two more herons approach from the air, flying straight towards us, their wings casting giant shadows in the morning light. One flaps awkwardly to a landing near the one in the water while the other circles over our heads. The two on the ground commence an argument when the new arrival lunges at the one who was already there. Apparently herons don’t believe in first-come, first-serve. The original heron is displaced with a loud, complaining squawk as it rises into the air. The third heron must have decided the fishing in the wetland isn’t good enough for a fight because it banks away from the wetland and heads towards the wide waters of the river.

I think of an article I read several years ago that herons recovered faster than Bald Eagles when the use of DDT was banned and that the recovery of the eagles would eventually check the rising population of herons. I find myself wondering if there are any Bald Eagles here–I haven’t seen any yet, but there are certainly a lot of herons.

The show over, we continue to the riverfront more slowly than usual. My legs are stiff and sore from my workout on Thursday. I walk awkwardly and Pat teases me that I look like an old lady hobbling along. Each step reminds me that I hadn’t done a good leg workout for a month at least and that I probably should have gone a little easier. Unfortunately, going to Germany for two weeks isn’t going to make the next workout any easier.

We eventually make it to the end of the walkway on the river and head up one short block to walk along the store fronts that face the river park. Many are open for breakfast, but we have groceries to use up before we go, so we resist the temptation to stop. However, the smell of Julie Darling donuts gets to Pat this morning and he decides he wants a glazed donut to go along with his breakfast. We run across the street no where near an intersection, which would be quite dangerous if it weren’t a quiet Saturday morning. We dig out exact change to pay for the donuts, hoping to lighten the jingle for our trip. The woman who waits on us counts the change and rejects a Canadian penny. Pat tries to talk her into taking it on the grounds that the Canadian dollar is actually stronger than the US dollar (or at least it was when I was in Toronto a month and a half ago). She smiles and says, “I just don’t want to take advantage of you,” a quick and witty response that makes me laugh. We find a US penny, take our donuts and move onto the bank, Pat now making an argument to me that he thinks Canadian change is considered legal tender and that stores have to take it. I tell him that may have been true at one time, but I know my Canadian change has been rejected many times at many establishments, so I don’t think it’s true now.

When we get to the bank, our favorite banker, Clayton, is sitting at his usual desk inside the door. His face lights up with a smile that says he is genuinely glad to see us and I, once again, feel the warm glow of belonging. I am still astounded by the warmth of this man–I would never consider going to another bank just because I enjoy seeing Clayton so much. He gets out of his chair and walks around his desk to greet us, asking us how we’ve been.

After exchanging pleasantries, Pat decides to ask Clayton about the Canadian penny. Most people would have just answered to the best of their knowledge given that it’s just a trivia question, but Clayton gets on the phone, gives the person on the other end some special code that identifies him as a bank employee, I guess, and then asks if Canadian change is supposed to be accepted at stores. Now who else would do that? As I suspected, stores are not required to take Canadian change, but the care that Clayton takes to make sure Pat’s question is answered more than makes up for all the Canadian change we have.

We chat a while longer and then go to the teller to take care of our business. She is almost as friendly as Clayton, but without the familiarity of an old friend that Clayton conveys. Our business done, we stop to tell Clayton good bye and he wishes us well on our trip as we head out the door, walking over to shake our hands one more time. I feel like we’re leaving a friend behind.

Returning to our apartment, we take on the other tasks left before departing. I attempt to figure out if I can get data access from Germany, but am quickly reminded of the one disadvantage to having chosen Verizon wireless as my 3G carrier for my iPad–no service outside the US. I’m a little annoyed with Verizon when I get off the phone–they have an entire section of their website dedicated to international travel and how to get service outside the US yet they don’t actually offer any service. I assume someone in marketing thought it would be a good idea to have a competitive website to AT&T’s and threw up a page to fool unsuspecting international travelers. I find it odd that they would make this investment along with a call center for a service they don’t offer, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen companies create a marketing campaign before they actually have product to go along with it. I just wish they hadn’t wasted my time.

By the time our errands and tasks are done, we are both ready for an afternoon nap. I am nodding off as I try to resolve some issues with my various electronic devices and Pat has already given up and gone to lay down in the bedroom. However, the frustration of sorting out getting books and movies downloaded to my new iPad (having broken my old one and gotten it replaced has created some confusion in my accounts in that they don’t recognize this device) wakes me up a bit and I end up spending the time sorting things out instead of sleeping. Pat comes back out a half hour later and says he couldn’t sleep either, but as he starts to fuss with getting ready to go, I nod off and sleep a bit after all. When I wake up again, Pat has decided we should officially kick off our vacation with a margarita from Taco Mamacitos around the corner. I protest that it’s now 5:30PM and we haven’t started packing yet. He argues it will make packing more enjoyable. I get up and go look in the mirror, trying my best to wipe the sleepy look away quickly.

We sit at the bar at Taco Mamacitos and each order our favorite margarita along with chips and salsa. It seems like we are only there for a few minutes, but by the time we get home, it’s 7:15. I go into high gear and start pulling together outfits for hiking in the Black Forest, walking around cities, and one for going out at night (not that we’re likely to be able to stay awake late enough for that).

When I start putting my stuff in my roll aboard and half of the one large suitcase we will take, I discover that I really am a light packer. With plenty of extra space, I throw in an extra sweater and some extra T-shirts and even a long underwear top, just in case. I try to run through the list of things I packed and think of what I’ve forgotten this time (always forgetting at least one thing on every trip), but I can think of nothing else I need. I zip up the suitcases and sit down to relax. It’s now 9:30. It’s hard to believe it takes nearly two hours to put together the necessary items for a two-week trip, but it sure beats how long it takes to pack for a backpacking trip! After working on my blog and relaxing for a couple more hours, I go to bed hoping that the margarita didn’t muddle my brain so badly that I’m going to discover that I didn’t pack some basic necessity, but mostly satisfied that I’m ready for tomorrow.

Weekend Road Trip

It’s Saturday morning and I manage to sleep until 6AM–woo hoo!  We are leaving for Great Smoky Mountain National Park today and we have no plan and haven’t started to pack.  First, we decide we will camp, but not backpack.  This tells us what we will need.  Next, we decide we will enter the park from the South side, which tells us how we will get there.  Next, we head for the storage room and start digging out our gear.  Most of our camping gear is neatly packed into our two backpacks, but my sleeping bag and the camp stove are missing.  Back in the storage room, we dig up my sleeping bag, stored full and puffy in it’s large storage bag so that it doesn’t lose loft.  I love my sleeping bag.  It’s a Western Mountaineering down, water resistant bag that weighs next to nothing but manages to keep me warm in sub-freezing temperatures.  I toss the big bag in the air a few times just to appreciate how light it is.  We find the camp stove (well, it’s really a super-light single burner that screws directly onto a small propane tank) in a plastic storage container that also has bug spray, an extra flashlight, wet wipes (a must for camping), and two super-absorbent, fast-drying camp towels.  We collect our booty and return down the hall to our apartment.

All of our gear is spread out on the floor, looking much like an explosion.  We sort through what we need for camping in the front-country from what we only need for back-country.  Having decided not to backpack, we need less stuff but don’t have to worry so much about how much space it occupies.  We thought we were going to take our mini-van so that we’d have the option to sleep in the van if the weather turned nasty, but the front brakes were making some nasty noises when we drove the day before (making Pat extremely angry since he’d just had the brakes done a month ago and the dealership had ensured him the front brakes were fine) and we decide we’d better take the BMW.  It’s a small car and we don’t want to have to leave anything valuable sitting in the seats, so we debate whether we should roll the sleeping bags into their impossibly small stuff sacks or leave them in their storage bags.  Deciding they will fit in their storage bags, we move on to packing clothing.  I grab two pairs of hiking pants, a couple of high-tech T-Shirts that will dry fast when wet.  Then I choose some bra tops that are comfortable for hiking, my five-fingers trekking shoes, a pair of socks for night time, and the world’s most comfortable underwear, Ex Officio boy-cut briefs.  Normally, I would not mention my unmentionables, but these are just so awesome for the active woman that I can’t help but share.  I slip on a pair of cropped hiking pants and tank top along with my Chaco Z sandals.  I grab my 1-quart zip lock bag of toiletries from my trip to New York and remove the items I won’t need while camping.  I stuff it all into a reversible stuff sack that has a nice fuzzy interior that can be turned inside out and stuffed with the perfect aount of clothes to make a nice pillow.  Since we’re not worried about weight this trip, I throw in my neck pillow.

Now that my gear and garments are ready to roll, I focus on water.  Unfortunately, our faucet is one of those sprayer types that you can’t attach a water filter to.  I filter 2 gallons of water through our filter pitcher and fill two large water bladders for our day packs and a gallon jug to take with us.  We drink a lot of water when we hike.  Since we can’t carry the gallon of water with us, I also prep our backpacking water filter that will allow us to safely refill our bladders from any stream should we run out.  I’m a little paranoid about hiking.  Maybe not paranoid given my proclivity for hurting myself, but I like to make sure I always have a first aid kit, emergency blankets, and plenty of water.  I figure that ensures we can survive any accident for at least 3 days.  Even when we are taking short, easy hikes, I like to know that we’re prepared for disaster.  Maybe I’ve read too many stories about hikers who died from hypothermia after a minor injury laid them up on the trail, but I want to know that I will be able to stay warm, dry, and hydrated even if we’re only a couple miles from help.

Having gathered together all the necessities save food, we load up the car.  Pat decides to take two trips.  I wait for him outside, keeping an eye on the car now that I’ve put my backpack containing my camera gear in the front seat.  He returns with the last load and we pile in and head out.  I am practically bouncing in my seat as we head out of town.  While part of me is so tired I want to lay around all weekend, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend a long weekend in the Smokies.  We talk about what we will do when we get there, since we still have no real plan beyond getting there.  Our first goal will be to find a campsite.  I’m somewhat worried that with it being a holiday weekend, there won’t be any available.  We also stop for gas and stock up on snack food so we can go straight from getting a campsite to going on a hike.  It’s taken us so long to get out the door that we won’t get there before 3PM.  I don’t want to miss out on a hike just because we don’t have any snacks to take with us (another little paranoid thing I have–unless I’m hiking in a metro park, I want to make sure we have some food on us).

It strikes me as funny that we spent so much time rushing around to get ready, yet we don’t know what we got ready for.  I pull out my iPad and start digging through old emails, trying to find the name of a trail a friend recommended to me.  Unfortunately, I’m not able to locate it.  I figure I’ll have to ask again and we’ll catch it next time.  I download an app that is supposed to help with planning a trip to the park, but it has little information about hiking trails.  I do searches and try to figure out where we should go when we get there, but in the end, I have to sit back and relax and assume that it will all work out.

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.