Two years to the day after we flew to Berlin for a family sabbatical, I left my husband for the first time. It wasn’t Berlin’s fault. And maybe it wasn’t M’s either. But things were put into motion during that yearlong hiatus from our so-called real life that a separation had shifted imperceptibly from the category of impossible to damn near inevitable. Continue reading
I don’t know when it was that I started having morbid thoughts each time I fly. They happened again last Friday morning, when in the moments before takeoff from Minneapolis I’d been having perfectly rational thoughts like which armrest was rightfully mine and whether I ought to claim it now, and whether the baby one row back was likely to cry for the whole ride or just for takeoff. But these thoughts scattered as the plane rounded the last curve and the runway yawned into view, when we straightened out and paused like a gymnast anticipating her mount and the engines roared to life and we started barreling down the runway and the only thought left was, Well, Jill, this is it.
I was still seated at my office desk yesterday at 5:05 p.m., the day before my vacation was to start, when my boss stepped into my office for the first time that day. By then I’d already shut down my computer. I was adding some files to an accordion folder before me, so I could throw it in my bike bag to take home. I’d be out of the office for over two weeks. I was pushing the limits of my vacation time and felt a little uncomfortable about it. I saw no choice but to take some work to finish from the road. Continue reading
There was a time when our oldest was quite young, maybe six or so, and a family friend was visiting, an eight-year-old boy named Forrest. We were driving somewhere around town in Minneapolis when M and I overheard Forrest in the back say to S, “Okay, now let’s pretend there’s a hot lava situation,” and M nearly drove off the road, it was so ridiculously cute. And ever since, M and I will say it to each other, “It’s a bit of a hot lava situation,” or a variation thereof. Continue reading
We’ve just returned from spring break in Italy, which is a very German thing to do, considering how many of our children’s classmates and their families did the same. We spent the first week in Tuscany with M’s immediate family (meaning his 15 closest relatives: father, siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews), and then spent a week along the coast and in Milan on our own.
The views we enjoyed during the course of our stay were breathtaking and varied—scenes of pastoral hills terraced with olive gardens surrounding our rented villa, snow-capped mountains in the distance, foothills of the Alps; a wooden table under an arbor covered with blooming wisteria and humming with bees; small ancient towns that may not have changed a bit in centuries; uncelebrated 1,000-year-old churches; medieval walls encircling small, quaint towns; a still-standing Roman aqueduct spanning the countryside; and even the remains of an Etruscan amphitheater. And of course we took in a few obligatory yet stunning sights: the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo in the heart of Florence.
A car is required to see most of these places (with the exception of Florence). We simply could not have reached our villa without one, and considering there were twenty of us, it took not just one but four cars to bring us all to the top of the far-flung hillside where we stayed.
Our adventure began and ended with cars; for me they became a dominant theme of the week, and I say this as a non-designated driver. The other themes that could be explored here include food (from the expected pasta, pizza, and gelato to the unexpected brains), family (the rich mix of adult personalities and bright-eyed children), missing Mom (this was the first family trip without her) or sickness (there were a variety of coughs, fevers, flus, and pains coursing through the family that kept us all on our toes), but for the moment I’ll set those aside and tell you about the mundane theme of cars. Continue reading
The flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt was half-full, and I had three seats to myself, room to stretch out, in theory. Yet even when the seats are empty, they are so rigid that it’s hard to relax and succumb to sleep.
In the row ahead of me was an older German couple. They both had white hair, and though I couldn’t hear most of their words, I could hear them each say “Bitte?” frequently. They sat with an open seat between them, her by the window, him in the aisle seat, and with the loud noise of the engine they could barely hear each other and had to keep repeating their words. I love the word bitte for its many uses—“please,” “you’re welcome,” and the way they were using it, more like “Pardon me?” or “Come again?” They sounded kind and respectful when they said it; they never devolved into an annoyed “Was?!” Continue reading
We set out for the coast later than planned. Deb and I arrived at the car rental place in downtown Melbourne at 10 a.m., as requested, but the line for the second-floor office went all the way down the stairs to the street. Ned showed up with his backpack and rolled a cigarette and stood outside with me in the strong sun until Deb emerged over a half hour later with the keys to our blue Holden Cruze with New South Wales plates. Continue reading