Author Archives: Mary Vaughan

August

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A lot’s happened at our house in the last two weeks.  I returned to my job at my wonderful school, this year assisting in the Threes class with a lovely new teacher. Already I know it’s going to be a fabulous year.  Hubby has been working his arse off to get the IT running at a new business site in Atlanta, often working 12-14 hour days. Patrick got a promotion and due to people quitting, at 26 years old, he is now the senior premium auditor in the State of AZ for the insurance company he works for.  Go, Patrick!  Eve is looking forward to finishing the last two years of her Biology degree while working part-time in a doctor’s office.  We were sad for her that the summer job in the mountains being an EMT for the fire fighters didn’t work out (she couldn’t pass the physical test), but she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and made a new plan.

And William?  William seems to be in a state of denial that in six days we will be moving all his worldly belongings up to Flagstaff to settle him in for another year at Northern Arizona University.  He and his girlfriend lounge about binge-watching tv, stopping only to get fast food or a pizza or sweetened coffee drinks.  I’m glad they’re not starving students like I was back at ASU in the late ’80’s (I once sold my textbook a week before finals so I could go barhopping with friends), but I know that my lean years have made me appreciate that nowadays I can order pizza any time I want.  William’s summer job money will be running out soon, and he will be on a strict school budget come next week.   And I’ve warned him that either he packs stuff from home . . . or he will be scrounging at garage sales and Goodwill for the stuff he forgot.  He is a man of few needs, so I’m sure all will work out.  My urge to “mom him” is very hard to suppress, so I’m grateful to be back at work when else wise I might be sorting through extra boxes of dishes and pots and pans to see what he needs.  Our renters at our house near ASU left EVERYTHING, so we own all one would need to furnish a kitchen.

Hubby and I are sad to have William leave.  I’ve never been good at transitions.  While my heart knows it’s time to move forward, my body seems to fight me all the way.  I find myself feeling awkward and in the way. Words are hard (anyone who has ever met me is frowning at this because I am typically very verbose).  I am clumsy.  On the second day of school I was wearing my skirt inside out—luckily Hubby noticed the tag hanging out before I left the house.  Another day I had a pimple coming up on my nose (SO not fair in my fifties!), and another day I spilled my entire cup of coffee into my purse on the drive to school.  I thought the large, squat cup was secured between my purse and lunchbox but when I turned a corner it dumped (nothing was ruined).  Yesterday I washed William’s new bed sheets with a few eye glass cloths from my purse, and some gum was apparently caught on one, so his new sheets ended up with gum on the hem.  GOOD GRIEF.

But all in all, I think we’re doing okay.  Sometimes change hurts, but in this month of August in the year of 2017, I feel like the pain is worth the eventual progress.  I believe my family of five is all moving forward in great ways, even though we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re feeling anxious, and we’re feeling a bit clumsy.  August is a month of great change for many of us with school starting, kids going off to college, and recently, huge political unrest that makes all of us feel uneasy.  Take care of yourselves.  Listen to that inner voice.  I listened to mine tonight which said stay home and make Chicken Makhani and watch terrible Marvel shows with your youngest son and your husband.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

 

Summer’s End

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I always have a song running through my head.  Today’s lyrics were “after the boys of summer have gone.”  Really creative, oh brain of mine!  Tomorrow I return to my job at my wonderful school, and while I am so excited, part of me always feels melancholy about leaving summer behind.

This summer was one of extreme periods of busyness followed by extreme periods of laziness. Hubby and I took vacations to Mexico and then a few weeks later to London and Paris.  After that I visited family in Illinois for a week, and Hubby is currently on business in Atlanta. Preparing for trips takes a lot of energy, as does recouping afterwards.  Between vacations, I facilitated the remodel of our house by Arizona State University where our college-aged children lived for the last seven years (and then sold that house). I’m not sure how I had time to be lazy.  But I did.

I had goals this summer to go the gym daily, yet with my youngest son home from college for the summer, I found myself wanting to stay home to hang out with him, eating grilled cheese sandwiches while watching Games of Thrones, New Girl, and The Ranch. Isn’t it so much more fun to watch tv with friends??  I hope to find my way back to the gym once William and his girlfriend, Katherine, return to Flagstaff in a few weeks, and I don’t regret the five additional pounds around my waist from couch potato-ing with them while eating pizza and french fries.  William is my youngest, and I’m keenly aware of the fact this may be my last summer having one of our kids living at home.

Here are some of the other shows I loved this summer:

Indian Summers is a great drama set in the Himalayas in 1932.  The show focuses on the social politics of the British Empire and the birth of modern India.  If you loved Downton Abbey, you will likely appreciate this PBS mini series which has great acting, dramatic scenery, and beautiful costumes.  Watch it on Amazon Prime.

You can watch Versailles on Netflix.  If you loved The Tudors, this is right up your alley.  I was fortunate to visit the Palace at Versailles a few years ago and found this historically- accurate series to be very interesting, not to mention quite titillating with all of the sexual conquests.  Again, very beautifully filmed and wonderful acting.

I love New Girl.  I rewatched the whole show on Netflix with my kids this summer.  It’s clever and hilarious and awkward, and I love it so much.

Rectify.  OMG.  I can’t seem to talk any of my friends into watching it.  I had no idea there was a fourth season on Netflix, and since it had been so long since I watched the first seasons, I started over from the beginning.  The acting is amazing.  The pacing and tension reminds me of Six Feet Under, but I love Rectify so much more.

I re-watched old favorite movies like The Right Stuff, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 13 Going on 30, Millers Crossing, and The English Patient.  Okay, I’ll admit I like many different genres, but I love revisiting an old favorite.

This summer may be one of the best I’ve ever had. The angsty words from the Eagle’s Boys of Summer are still playing on repeat in my head, but I’m feeling so hopeful and excited for a fabulous new school year ahead!

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

 

Yawns

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It’s been quite a month of travel for me.  I’ve had exciting adventures and slept in many different beds, so how wonderful it felt to get back to my own bed this weekend.  I slept like the dead–until about 7am when my ears were accosted by the sound of tweeting birds, which is very unusual at our house. These birds were serious about their songs; they did not let up, and after an hour, when (half asleep and half awake) I weighed plans about getting ridding of them (BB gun pellets? Sharp bird pest strips planted on the roof?).  I woke up enough to realize it was Hubby’s alarm clock that we both had slept through. ON A SUNDAY MORNING. I seriously wanted to punch him.  I told him he needs to go back to the old-fashioned BEEP BEEP BEEP alarm or else I will be slumbering in a different room.

Hubby is gone for a week to Georgia on a business trip so his alarm clock will not be disturbing me, but I still haven’t slept well for days.  The last night I was in Illinois, I sustained 60 mosquito bites–45 on my left leg and 15 on my right.  These were not the pesky little mozzies we have here in Tempe whose bites disappear after an hour.  These big-ass Midwestern mosquitos left some sort of toxin in my skin, causing each bite to swell to the size of big red nickels . . . and they are so itchy it’s hard to keep my fingernails off them.  It’s been a week and they show no signs of healing.  If they aren’t better by Monday, I will seek medical attention.  I keep wishing I’d used the bug repellant spray offered but nooooooo, I didn’t want the chemicals on me.  UGH.

Then last night Ruby the Wonder Spaniel got me up FOUR TIMES to go out and do her business between 2am and 5am.  She’d eaten so many cicadas before bed that her tummy was literally buzzing.  She does this every year, and while watching her leap about the yard for her summer snacks is Youtube-worthy, those crunchy treats always give her a case of the runs.  I gave her a Tums that she licked at loudly for a good 15 minutes, but then we were back outside soon after that.  Complicating the situation is that I’d taken a Benadryl to try to calm the itch from the bug bites and couldn’t figure out which way the door was!   Several times in the past few weeks, I’ve woken up in the dark thinking Hubby and I are still in our fabulous British hotel room with the magical view of the Tower of London.

Next week school starts and I will be back to an “early to bed and early to rise” schedule. It will be a difficult transition after a summer of staying up past midnight either reading or watching Netflix, waking up with no alarm clock, then napping mid afternoon.  But I am excited to meet the new staff members, new parents, and most of all our students . . . and be living a useful life again after the long, restorative summer break.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Home, Then and Now

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It is 7:30 pm on Sunday night, and I am in the middle of cooking my mother’s famous lasagna recipe.  It involves making your own bechamel, and it is the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.  I seem to remember that she found it in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine which seems hard to believe, but you must remember that in the late 1960s and the early 1970s Julia Child was on tv encouraging housewives to venture away from meat loaf and pork chops.  I’m not going to share the lasagna recipe here because lately I’ve found it hard to amaze my dinner guests, which is not surprising when the NYT and Epicurious send us their best recipes on a daily basis.  Better, sometimes, to reach back in time and return to the classics.

Tonight I was so happy chopping onions and garlic and stirring pots and singing along with Florence Welch and then it occurred to me that WHOOPS I’d forgotten about the pasta. Our stove is awful and takes forever for a burner to heat, so now I am in a holding period waiting for the ziti to cook.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I am making my mother’s famous lasagna recipe using ziti, simply because the lasagna noodles located on the top shelf (way in the back) were so petrified they quite possibly may have been purchased during Obama’s first term.  You see, our cupboards are very deep, and I am short and cannot see to the back.  And I’m lazy to fetch a chair to look into the bowels of my cupboards.  I hope I gain back some of your faith when I tell you I used fresh oregano from our backyard garden in the meat sauce.  That’s about all that’s left growing in this tremendous heat. That and a basil plant that has quadrupled in size during the few months since I bought it at Trader Joe’s.  I completely forgot it was there and am sad thinking about all the days when I could have had Caprese salads.

I’m making this complicated lasagna recipe so Hubby will have comfort food when he comes home to an empty house each night during this coming week.  William and his friends are off camping up north in the cool mountains, and tomorrow I get on plane to see my aunts and uncles and cousins in my hometown in northern Illinois.  I have not been in three years and am so excited to see my family . . . and to see and feel and smell the town where I was born and where I lived until I was ten years old.

In my dreams I ride my bike down the streets of this little old town.  I go through the squeaky screen door to hug my grandmother and then at other times, I have coffee with my Aunt Linda and my cousin Bridget.  In my dreams, memories of my young self get tangled up with the reality of the older self I am now.  Because I am the oldest of three, I keep the childhood memories of this place for all of us.  I tell my brother about driving to Grandpa Koppen’s house when a tornado was coming, our mother shouting at us to roll down the windows, we will be there soon!  Our own basement was mud walls and big spiders, and grandma and grandpa were just up the street with a lovely finished basement complete with pool table and full bar.  I say to my siblings, don’t you remember when we lived on Grover Street and Aunt Linda and Uncle Bill and Matt and Bridget lived just twenty steps from our own front door?  Their dog, Arfrang, was so cute and was always jumping at their screen . . . and their spunky little cats, Amos and Andy, were so fun to chase and pet.  Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s when we would sit at a fancy long table in the dining room?  Then after dinner the men would smoke and drink, and the women would do dishes and talk in the kitchen.  So much laughter, and I remember it all so fondly.  I try to keep this place of my youth alive for us because I am the oldest thus have the most stories, and this is the place where we were born.

I could share here many more childhood memories from my small town in Illinois, but a big storm is moving in, and I’d rather watch that through the window than continue driveling on here.  We have lightening and huge storm clouds and a rumbling of thunder in the distance.  We so rarely get weather here in the desert; this storm is a treat.   As always, thank you for reading my words.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Home at Last

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Friday night Hubby and I returned from a two-week vacation to London and Paris.  We saw EVERYTHING.  (Seriously, everything.)  We walked ten miles each day, plus rode the Tube (in London) and the Metro (in Paris) many miles to get to where we wanted to be. Mostly we saw tons of art, but also magnificent historical architecture and beautiful gardens. We stayed at really cool hotels (CitizenM Tower of London and Residence Foch) and consumed lots of fish and chips and hamburgers (the meat there is sooooo delicious compared to the ground beef you can buy in the States) and British craft beers.  Hubby and did not get in even one fight, which I consider pretty amazing. Things got dicey on our last day in England, when Hubby insisted on reading EVERY didactic at the Greenwich Museum, and I was so done that I considered pulling the fire alarm and then at dinner pretended I had poisoned him (“are you dizzy?  blurred vision? throat tightening?  No?  Hmmmmm). But overall, it felt like a second honeymoon, since we’ve never gone away for more than five days without the kids before.  We celebrated our 29th anniversary on the hotel balcony with a spectacular view of the Tower of London and felt pretty damned fortunate.

The best thing about a fabulous vacation:  Coming home.  Our youngest son, William, did an excellent job of holding down the fort while we were gone—feeding and caring for our five pets and keeping the house clean is not an easy job.  His best girl, Katherine, helped out, too.  I left William a credit card and I’m sure I’ll cry when that next bill arrives and I see how much money “we” spent at Dutch Bros Coffee while we were away. Apparently we also paid him in beer since our keg of expensive IPA was empty.  (College kids—what are you going to do??)

Today getting groceries I was so happy to have eye contact with people again. My experience was that in London and in Paris, there is absolutely no eye contact with strangers, unless you are a waiter serving dinner or hotel staff helping you as their guest. I did not like being invisible.  I like to smile at people and have offhand chit chat.  I can count on one hand the people who talked to us:

  1.  The French woman at the coin laundromat who spoke no English but was able to guide us through the very unfamiliar laundry system.  I gave her my most sincere smile, accompanied by a “merci beaucoup” and felt so grateful.  Hubby and I were already feeling irritated at not being able to find the darn place having walked a mile in all directions in a fancy neighborhood, each of us carrying black hefty bags of dirty laundry!
  2. The “skin heads” on the Tube elevator in London who alerted me that the doors would be opening in the opposite direction from where I was standing.  We’d traveled so much that day and I was daydreaming, not noticing that the 20 other people on this large elevator were facing the opposite direction.  I said, “Thank you! I probably would have figured it out eventually!  I’d think, where did all the people go?  Why am I all alone?”  They proceeded to do a bit which included the guy saying, “Dear Diary, Month 15 and I’m still in the Tube elevator.  It’s not all bad.  It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.  People leave bags of chips. I’m happy here.”
  3. The woman whose feet my suitcase fell on in the Tube.  She glared at me so hard I thought I might burst into flames.  Seriously?  I was carrying a huge paper sack which held three Starbuck’s London coffee cups and three London Toblerones that were gifts for the kids.  It was unwieldy and when I shifted, my bag fell over.  The part that landed on her feet was not heavy and I apologized sincerely, but she was just mad and mean and well, I’m sorry that when you ride the Tube you are so grumpy.  I love riding the Tube.  I love watching the comings and goings, and the families and the groups of friends and the handsome young men in their skinny suits headed to and from work  (I especially love that).
  4. The young man on the Tube escalator that kept me from falling backwards when  my huge, embarrassing, American suitcase started to fall off the step behind me.  I started wobbling and made a sound like “ooooohhhhh,”and he heaved my case up to the step and gently kept me from falling.  Oy vey, so embarrassing!  If you’ve never been on a Tube escalator, I can tell you it’s very stressful.  They are inclined at an extreme angle and go up four floors!  As a person who is afraid of heights, I can say going up is easier but going down I look at my feet and breathe slowly in and out so as not to scream out, “We’re all going to die!!!!”  Which would be really embarrassing.
  5. The business woman at the St. Pancras train station in London who so nicely gave me directions to where to catch our Eurostar (Chunnel) train.  This station is HUGE and is the only international station in London.  It’s super cool . . . if you’re not in a hurry to catch a train.  I mistook her for a station information attendant because she was in a suit and was standing next to the Information sign (most stations have these with staff positioned there to answer questions). She did not laugh at me and was very sweet.  Hubby, on the other hand, mocked me endlessly, so much so that anytime we were lost after that, I asked him, “Shall I go ask a stranger how to get there?”  If you don’t get lost while on your Europe vacations, then you’re just not doing it right.  We spent two hours one night looking for a restaurant called Hot Box that some website had recommended.  It was not a “good lost” since it was in a business area with huge sky scrapers.  We finally found the place.  HA.  Long picnic tables in a dark room with expensive hamburgers.

One reason I’m glad I was completely invisible in Europe:  I was the only person wearing leggings.  Here in Tempe that’s the norm!  Next blog will be European fashion tips!  Stay tuned!

Cheers,

Mary

Flip Flops

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First of all, I’d like to remind everyone to stay hydrated.  I got a little sun stroked Wednesday and somehow in my dehydrated delirium ended up with the song Telephone Man stuck in my head.  It’s been three days . . . and it will not go away.  STAY COOL!!!  You do NOT want this to happen to you!!!

Today is my Grandma Summer’s birthday.  She would have turned 100 years old today; sadly she passed away 15 years ago after a short battle with cancer.  She was one of the most important people in my formative years.  She taught me about gardening, how to cook, how to be silly, and above all else, she taught me unconditional love.  Florence Charlotte Summers Erbentraut was a very special person, and I think of her often. Happy Birthday, Grandma!

The last time I wrote was from the cool beaches of Rocky Point, Mexico.  Last week in Tempe, AZ, the afternoon temps were close to 120 degrees every day.  It truly is a dry heat, and I’ve been comfortable enough living my life in the usual manner.  I liked having the grocery store practically to myself because when it’s this hot, most people take care of their errands in the morning.  In a few weeks when monsoon season begins is when I will be really uncomfortable.  I do not care for high humidity which brings out the cicadas that buzz all day and night, setting my teeth on edge.  The humidity and cicadas stick around through mid-October, so I’m focusing on the “good parts” of summer:  magnificent towers of clouds building in the east each day, frequent dramatic monsoon storms, night swimming at the community pool, and best of all, having my college kids home for the summer.

I’ve not been as productive as usual because Eve and William are watching New Girl for the first time and it’s super distracting.   I try to do the dishes or start dinner or fold the laundry, but next thing you know, I’m sitting on the couch giggling along with two of them.  What’s better than watching a favorite show with your favorite people???  School begins for me August 7 and for them August 28, so we have oodles of summertime left to get stuff done  . . . and enjoy lazy times together.

I’ve been doing a bit of shopping and am having such a hard time finding blouses long enough to go over leggings.  My middle-aged muffin top is not accommodating to blue jeans, and I realize soon the summer clothes will be out of the stores.  The one style I CANNOT STAND is the cut-out shoulders.  UGH.  Seriously, who looks good in that???  I’ve seen young women pull it off, but for the most part . . . NOPE.  It’s worse than the horizontal stripe fad that lasted too many years.  I find myself saying YIKES in my head whenever I see anyone wearing this unfortunate type of blouse, but then chide myself even louder (in my head), BE NICE!!! Be SO glad you can’t read my mind, because it’s a little wild and crazy in there.

I fear people will be saying YIKES when they see me wearing my adorable new straw fedora.  Every summer my face gets too much sun, so in an effort to avoid having a burned beak, I bought a trendy straw hat.  My kids saw me in it and said, NOPE, but I say YEP.  I sound superficial, but I’ve always loved fashion and style.  As a girl, I spent hours pouring over the JC Penney catalog and saved up $6 for a pair of culottes when I was seven years old.  I don’t remember the actual pants, but I remember the saving and pining for them like it was yesterday.  My mom was always sewing something, and I spent hours as a child playing amongst the bolts of colorful fabric at Cloth World and Hancock. Fashion is a creative outlet for me!

Today we spent an hour in the JC Penney just down the road.  Hubby needed new flip flops (his current pair is ten years old, and I insisted he upgrade) and then he tried on blue jeans and then he tried on more flip flops.  It felt like we were there forever, so I walked up and down the cool aisles, getting in some excercise . . . and humming “Hey Baby, I’m the telephone man. Show me where you want it, and I’ll put it where I can.”

Cheers,

Mary

Buick

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I am in Mexico.

Yesterday I told you about what a perfect weekend we’re having here in Puerto Penasco, and I also shared that we are co-habitating with a roach the size of a Buick.  Last night, our paths crossed again (cue horror movie music).

Let me begin this story by telling you that we almost didn’t make it out for dinner because I was so enraptured by the sunset. Clouds in the sky over the ocean = fantastic sunset.  (No clouds?  Eh, the sun goes into the ocean, blah blah, it’s fine.)  But last night’s sky looked as if it were on FIRE with pinks and oranges and reds all striped over each other, and every minute it changed, and then it got darker and then there were hues of purple and even the shape of it changed.  I tore myself away from the first part to smooth my hair and apply some mascara, and on the drive up Whale Hill to the restaurant, I just kept ooohing and aaaahing because it was seriously A Moment of Extreme Beauty which I will always remember.  The restaurant was full; we drove down to the malecon and I snapped a beautiful photo of the brilliant sky over the parking lot next to Flavio’s.  I know that doesn’t sound exactly “delightful” but I was really happy with the juxtaposition of this amazing effect of nature over a dusty parking lot full of old cars—the light and shadows were so cool.

We had a terrible dinner at Mary’s Seafood.  Almost inedible.  I gave them a brutal yelp review, which was well deserved. Thumbs up for a fantastic margarita and good service though!

We arrived back home, turned on the kitchen lights and EEEEEEKK!!!!! Buick the Roach was sniffing at a small spot of bacon grease on the stove top.  My mind did this amazing analysis of the situation, sort of like what Sherlock Holmes does in the recent Guy Ritchie movies.  Everything slowed down.  I considered attempting to pull a spatula from the jar of utensils which was situated BEHIND the roach and that scenario played out with the roach running away.  I surveyed the kitchen island to my right and saw nothing useful in killing/stunning a roach.  So I picked up the heavy ceramic spoon rest and SMASH!  With the agility one would expect from a person who has just consumed a plate of heavy fried seafood and a margarita as big as her head, I hit Buick with that spoon rest, screaming out a warrior’s cry, “HIYA!!!”  And much to Hubby’s and my chagrin, the spoon rest broke in two and Buick ran back into the hole behind the cupboards, laughing and calling me nasty names in Spanish (words that cannot, dear Reader, be repeated here).

The spoon rest was placed in the trashcan after a brief discussion about trying to glue it back together and rapidly coming to the conclusion that spoon rests are completely unnecessary objects and whoever invented them should be ashamed of themselves.   We hope the condo co-owner who buys these silly decorative items will not miss the Very Important Spoon Rest.

During all of this excitement, we noticed the windows whistling.  We slid open the glass door to the beach, and HOLY MOSES, the wind was INTENSE.  Amazing might be the better word.  All outside condo lights were off, but the moon was shining so brightly that the entire beach was illuminated.  I stepped off the patio onto the sand and instinctively spread my arms out to feel the strong, warm wind.  It buffeted my entire body—that’s how powerful it was.  Hubby came out and put his arms out, too.  From nine til midnight I sat outside in the wind, listening to music on my headphones and occasionally following the path made by the moon down to the high tide, rolling up my pant legs to wade into the warm ocean.  It was simply glorious. If anyone was watching from their patio, they probably were concerned for this middle-aged, clearly-deranged woman who kept walking down the beach to visit the night ocean.

The only bad news from the weekend (apart from Buick escaping) is that all attempts at protecting my face from sunburn failed.  I’m as pink as a pig, which is bad enough on its own but also typically results in a big nose pimple.  That should be popping up on Thursday morning as I head to work (I am subbing at my year-round school later this week).  I swear to you I applied sunscreen and wore a hat and stayed mostly in the shade.  It honestly feels quite lovely to be in my fifties and not really care what people think anymore.

I will end by telling you about the book I’m reading and cannot put down.  Through Painted Deserts:  Light, God, and  Beauty on the Open Road is written by a modern-day philosopher and all-around-super-smart guy named Donald Miller.  His writing is beautiful and honest and thought provoking–I am smitten. I watched a recent interview where he caught a lot of grief by saying he doesn’t really feel God when he’s at church.  Though he is Christian (and my beliefs are a bit of this and a bit of that) I found him simply charming and relevant to my world view.  Here is a passage from the book which resonated with me today:

“It’s interesting how you sometimes have to leave home before you can ask difficult questions, how the questions never come up in the room you grew up in, in the town in which you were born.  It’s funny how you can’t ask difficult questions in a familiar place, how you have to stand back a few feet and see things in a new way before you realize nothing that is happening to you is normal.”

I find this to be 100% true, which is why I love to travel.  Getting away gives my mind space to question, space to forgive myself for not leading the perfect life, and space to imagine.  As much as I love getting away, I love returning home with the hopes of trying to be just a little bit better/different/happier.

Cheers,

Mary