Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An error in judgement of nightmarish proportions

The idea was good in theory. Evan's been having nightmares about dinosaurs, so a trip the the Museum of Natural History to demystify the prehistoric beasts seemed well timed. "You'll see for yourself that they're all extinct now," we assured him. He loved the idea, and so off we went. A lovely family outing for a chilly January day. Proactive parenting at its best.

Or... not. Because what no one told us before we arrived at the museum all ready to explore and check out some bones? Is that the huge overpass which leads into the dinosaur exhibit takes visitors directly past this remarkably lifelike T-Rex.

I wanted family togetherness and a chance to reassure my son? I got it. Oh, boy did I get it. I'm still getting it night after night. But banishing dinosaurs from his dreams? Yeah. That didn't exactly happen.

Friday, January 26, 2007

And now for something completely different (but what?)

My experience as a stay at home mom has never involved much in the way of staying at home. Yes, of course, raising kids involves a lot more hours in the house than working full time ever did. But between kid classes and activities, playdates, errands and a few "me" hours courtesy of a babysitter each week, I've always managed to spend some part of each day in the company of others. I fully admit that a full schedule is as essential for my own well being as my kids' personal development; I need people and stimulation above and beyond that which tiny individuals building Lego towers and drawing rainbows alone can provide. Fortunately, I've always been good at finding outlets that meet my need for social interaction while my kids' needs are being met as well.

When we moved to London, the first thing I did was to start to pull together a roster of activities and outings that I could enjoy with Evan while Julia was in school. We tried out a number of things in the first month or so, and eventually settled into a comfortable routine with a playgroup, a cooking class and a Friday morning Shabbat program to anchor our weeks and outings and errands to fill in the gaps. We met some people we both genuinely enjoyed and got to know London a bit. It was a start, and I think we were both pretty content.

Then Evan started school. The good news is that he finally seems to have gotten through his adjustment issues and I've been able to cut 8 blocks out of my daily routine now that he's happily staying at school for the full duration of the class. But now that our new routine is starting to solidify, I'm noticing a slight problem with the way it's structured. The issue? Suddenly I'm a stay at home mother who actually stays at home. And I'm going stir crazy.

Evan goes to school 5 days a week from 1 until 3. There are so many things wrong with this kind of schedule for a nearly-3 year old that I can't even bring myself to list them all here, though I'm sure anyone who has ever parented (or even met) a nearly-3 year old can imagine quite a few of the problems it presents. But we were lucky to get a spot for him at all given the fact that we have not had him down on some enrollment waiting list since his third day in utero, so I'm committed to making it work for him. This means laying low in the mornings and hanging around the house so that he's still got the energy and interest to fully participate at school. It means laying low and hanging around the house after school because he's completely knackered, as my British neighbors would say. And in exchange for all of this "around the house" time? I get from 1:15 - 2:45 daily to do with what I wish. And gee, that's enough time to do... well, nothing.

With the exception of one lovely child-free lunch with a friend who was only in town for the day and the mindless chatter with other parents at school drop offs and pick ups, I have not had any in-person human contact with anyone outside of my immediate family all week. I think that it's entirely possible that I have been home for more combined hours this week than in any given year of stay-at-home parenting to date (OK, it's plausible that I'm overstating this equation just a bit, but it sure feels like a distinct possibility right now). I have supervised the assembly of dozens and dozens of puzzles, played a gazillion games of Caribou and Candy Land and read more books than I care to recount. During times that Evan has entertained himself, I have cleaned my entire home out of sheer boredom and am actually starting to eye Paul's shirts with half a mind to ironing them myself. I? Am suddenly a housewife. And I'm bored silly.

I admire women who get great pleasure out of keeping the home fires perfectly tended. But I am not one of those women. I love being a stay at home mother as long as the focus is on the mothering part. But the staying at home part? That's not going to work for me. And as the going out part is not going to work for Evan right now, it's pretty obvious to me that it's time to leave the board games and the markers in someone else's very capable hands for a few hours a week and find something to pursue outside of parenting. I need at least one thing in my life that involves interaction with human beings that I did not give birth to. It needs to inspire and invigorate (or at least interest) me. And it sure would be nice if it involved using at least a little part of my brain before the whole damn thing goes and completely atrophies on me.

In a city as diverse and cosmopolitan as London, there are a million options at my disposal. I could take a course. I could join some sort of a group. I could volunteer my time. I could seek part time employment. I could explore almost anything imaginable here. And therein lies the problem. There are so many options out there that I am completely paralyzed. If there were only one logical solution to my situation, I'd simply grasp the bull by the horns and make it happen. But faced with dozens of them, I find myself making myself another cup of coffee and contemplating mopping the floors. Me. Mopping. It aint pretty, folks.

I know that this is a fool's dilemma I face here, and I know that most people would probably not hesitate for half a second before setting out to (fill in your own blank here). But I am obviously denser than most, because instead of filling in my blanks, I am kind of drawing one at the moment. So give me some hints, folks. What would you do in my shoes? Would you learn something new? Use what you know in a new way? Prepare for the future? Seize the moment? Some combination of the above? (Yeah, I know I told you that you could go back to passively reading. I guess I lied.) Bonus points for creative ideas, concrete suggestions or anything that actually gets me off my ass and out of this house.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It all comes out in the wash

The washing machine in our NJ house died last week. This was no great (or unexpected) loss... the thing had been on its last legs for over a year now. In the final months before we left the States, I was unable to run it if anyone was sleeping, entertaining guests or talking on the phone. None of these things were possible with the noise of the machine, which sounded frighteningly similar to a fighter jet taking flight, running in the background. (The fact that someone was always sleeping, visiting or talking on the phone in that house was my excuse for both the massive size of my children's wardrobes and the fact that they rarely had much in the way of clean clothing.)

It's frankly a miracle that the machine ran as long as it did, and we were not in the least surprised to receive notification from our tenants, who were needlessly apologetic about the inconvenience and the expense, that it had washed its last load. We immediately offered to get them a new one, assuring our tenants that it was a purchase we were happy to make. Forget "happy"... I was positively giddy about purchasing a new American washing machine, even if it will be at least a year and a half or so before I get a chance to even see the thing. "But will it hold over sized loads?" I quizzed the sales guy over the phone. "Really over sized? Like, how many pairs of blue jeans do you think I'll be able to wash at the same time? Because I want to make sure that this is a really, really big machine."

This is my washing machine here in London. It is also my dryer here in London, as those clever Brits have figured out a way to meet two household needs with one space saving appliance. It is located smack in the middle of my kitchen, hidden away behind an ingenious fake cabinet door which gives the illusion that I have far more storage space in this kitchen than actually exists. Unfortunately, that lovely cabinet door is nearly never closed, because the machine is in near constant use.

A front loading washer is supposed to use less water and be good for the environment and all sorts of other great stuff, but really, it just makes me nuts. Once it turns on, the door is locked, so if I forget a t-shirt or accidentally drop a sock on the way to the laundry machine, I'm pretty much out of luck for the day. It takes well over an hour to run a standard load of laundry in this machine, after which the load has to be separated into two batches for drying if I ever want it to finish. Each one of those batches takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. If I start first thing in the morning and watch the machine diligently all day long, and if I've got no heavy towels or blue jeans thrown into the mix, I can occasionally squeeze in a second load in one day. I'm sure you can imagine how often that happens.

So it's generally one (ridiculously small) load a day here, creating a constant game of laundry catch up that I will just never win. I, who used to toss nearly a full week's worth of laundry into my machine back home and have the audacity to complain that I was doing way too much laundry, now parcel our family's apparel and linens out into little daily bundles of sweet smelling cleanliness. I fold clothing on the kitchen counter or the kitchen floor, trying to avoid the crumbs from the nearby breadbox and toaster. (There's really no better way to know just how dirty your kitchen really is than to try to fold clean laundry in it.) And periodically, I peer into the condenser dryer wondering how on earth it can have no lint filter when I know full well that laundry generates lint. (It's not there. Seriously. I even read the damn manual.) All in all, I spend way too much time thinking about laundry.

I will likely do some 500-odd more loads of laundry before my stay in London is through. But when the movers finally come to pack us up and send us home, I'm shipping every damn last thing in our closets back dirty. Because I have a humongous new washing machine just waiting for me back home. In a dedicated laundry room. With its own separate dryer beside it. The mind boggles.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Four blocks

The fact that there are only four short blocks between our house and the kids' school was the major selling point for this place when we were house hunting. Four blocks! Less than a 10 minute walk! "Now that's city living at its' best," we said. And we were right... sort of.

I love that four block walk first thing in the morning. Sure, getting the kids out of the house takes more energy than everything else I have to do all day long and oftentimes it's raining (or worse yet, not raining until we get halfway to school, at which point the heavens open up and I realize that I still haven't quite grasped the cardinal rule of umbrella toting). But the fresh air is invariably invigorating and it feels good to get my body moving and I'm generally in good spirits by the time we get to school. On the way back, Evan and I discuss our plans for the day, as I prod him to move a little faster before the coffee I invariably left half-finished on the kitchen table gets too cold to consume. Eight blocks down.

Less than four hours later, we're off on the same walk again, this time to take Evan, whose school day begins at 1. By this point, we've generally run an errand or seen a friend and I'm kind of over the fresh air and exercise thing, but it's only four blocks so I can't complain. I deposit Evan in his classroom, try to ignore the wails of my poor, not-yet-adjusted-to-the-idea-of-school, separation anxious child and slip out of the building. I walk home tense from the experience of trying to be upbeat about a situation my son is positively not upbeat about. Maybe today will be the day he turns it all around. At least I've got 16 blocks under my belt now.

Forty five minutes later, I'm off again. An hour of school is about all Evan can handle right now, so I've been picking him up at 2 p.m. We had a breakthrough of sorts yesterday and he was actually not in tears when I arrived, so I'm hoping that this little trip will not be necessary for much longer, but for now, an hour is more than enough time for him to be there without me. I walk fast this time, racing to make sure I arrive before Evan starts to look for me, and I steel myself for the possibility of more tears. Once he's safely in my arms again, we head home for a celebratory ice cream or some comforting cuddles, depending on how the day went. 24 blocks, not that I'm counting.

No sooner have I wiped all evidence of chocolate ice cream off of Evan (or wiped the last tear from his eye) than we're out the door again, off to get Julia, whose day ends at 3:10. I've generally got Evan in his stroller by now, exhausted and unhappy about the prospect of yet another journey to school. He's not the only one. We join the queue of waiting parents, make inane small talk while we wait for the classroom door to open up, greet Julia, maneuver our way through the crowded school corridors and start off toward home, both kids screaming to make themselves hear over the other as they compete to tell me about their days. Someone jumps in a muddy puddle and ends up drenched. Someone nearly runs off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic. Someone suddenly discovers a pressing need for a potty. Two someones want my undivided attention. I struggle to keep everything under control, grateful that the walk, at least, is something I can do on autopilot. And then at last, we are home for the day, the 32nd block of my "quick little school run" finally mercifully completed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A fairy tale

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who fancied herself a princess. (We'll call her Princess Julia because what the heck... Julia's a pretty name.) Princess Julia lived in New Jersey, where she was very happy, until one day her family whisked her away to live in London. Princess Julia soon adapted to her new home and found it very much to her liking, but she was worried about her upcoming birthday. She was upset that her party could not be in the New Jersey ice cream parlor where she'd always dreamed of celebrating her fifth birthday and she was sad that her old friends could not be there to celebrate with her. "What if no one comes to my party here?" she asked her mother. (Princess Julia knew all of the right buttons to push where her mother was concerned.)

And so Princess Julia's mother spent the King's Ransom to give her sweet girl the party of her dreams, a party so grand that it would eclipse all memories of ice cream parlors and a party so special that no child would dare refuse an invitation. Princess Julia and her friends (all of whom magically accepted their invites and appeared with large plastic gifts in hand) gathered in the magic fairy grotto and perched on sparkly toadstools as Cinderella and her fairy assistant entertained them with storytelling, magic, games and dancing. There was pizza and overpriced cake and more than a little fairy dust. Princess Julia glowed with joy and pronounced it the most magical birthday party EVER. Her mother wrote a horrifyingly large check and wondered when she'd become such a sucker for her daughter. And then they all lived happily (albeit significantly poorer) ever after.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Yes, I do mean you, actually

I've received a number of emails and holiday cards recently in which people I know have mentioned that they're reading this blog regularly. It always catches me a little off guard; that was the point, of course, and I'm naturally happy to hear that our friends and family are interested in following our adventures here. But since only a handful of people generally post comments after I write something, I guess I kind of assumed that only a handful of people were reading. Apparently, that's not exactly the case. Huh. Could have fooled me...

I'm equally pleased and surprised, though in a very different kind of way, when people I don't know in real life stumble upon this site and actually do post a comment. It's fascinating to me how circuitous web surfing leads others with similar circumstances or interests to my little navel-gazing corner of the 'net, and I can't help but wonder how many others stop by without ever letting me know that they've been here.

This is all a long winded intro (and would you expect anything less from me?) into the fact that this is apparently International Delurking Week in the blogosphere. (Yes, really. I know. But apparently so.) And so I'm inviting you all -- friends and strangers alike -- to just click that little "comments" button there at the bottom of this post (the one after my name and the date and time) and let me know you're out there. And then you can drop back into your regular reading routine again. I promise.

Any takers?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

British is as British does

In the past week alone, I have caught myself saying all of the following things without any forethought or deliberate attempt to sound British:

He's going to be just shattered.
Let me have a think on that.
That's just brilliant!
Does that sandwich come with to-mah-to and bah-sil?
I'm just going to pop to the loo.
Aren't you clever?

I've also found myself wanting desperately to say "cheers" at least three dozen times but have been unable as yet to utter the word. I'd have caved long ago were I not so terrified of sounding like a complete ass with my American accent. It's only a matter of time before the word slips out, though.

My American identity holds strong, but the British colloquialisms? I'm powerless to resist them. The next thing you know, I'll be ordering a fil-let. God help me (after He saves the Queen, of course).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Dear Julia,

Today, you are 5. Lest we forget this fact, you have been writing Happy Birthday notes to yourself and leaving them all around the house for days. "Januarie 9: Day bfor my birthday" was the entry that you wrote -- and then proudly showed me -- in your journal yesterday and I'm pretty sure that the words "Januarie 10: My birthday" made it in there before you'd even had breakfast this morning. Apparently, 5 is the age that birthdays become a Big Deal.

Every year on your birthday, I write you a letter in which I try to capture who you are at that age. For the first few years, I marveled each time at how much more of yourself you'd revealed to me in the past year and how much better I knew you than I had 12 months earlier. This year, for the first time, the opposite is true. As the world takes you away from me for longer and longer periods of time and as your life begins to involve more and more experiences that don't include me, I am less and less certain that I know the whole you. This is the year that you have begun what I'm sure will be a process that will take many years; the process of pulling away.

It's nearly imperceptible, of course, the initial loosening of the ties that bid you to me. You still get out of school bursting to tell me about your day and you still love to climb into my lap or curl up on the couch for a snuggle. I'm pretty sure that I'm still #1 in your life, at least for now. But with the full school days that we now spent apart, plus the influence of a peer group that we haven't both known since they were in diapers, there's just a little bit of fraying to that strong cord that held you close by my side in your earliest years. Secrets you don't tell me, knowledge I'm not sure how or where you acquired, experiences I'm not there to witness, whole chunks of your days that don't include me... right before my eyes, you are becoming your own person.

The good news is that I truly like and respect the person who you are becoming. I'm so incredibly proud of the way that you handled our move to the UK and how enthusiastically you have embraced life here. We dropped you in the middle of a new and unfamiliar world at a pretty darn tender age, but you squared your shoulders and you marched into that classroom and you never looked back. You took your time and you sized up the situation and you have slowly but surely made it your own. In just a few months' time, you've impressed your teachers with your intelligence and your peers with your friendliness. I was a nervous wreck for you, biting my nails and worrying that you wouldn't fit in or that your shyness would hold you back. You never seemed to have those fears. You were confident that you'd make your way eventually, and you were right. I'm sorry I doubted you. "For all of her shyness," your teacher told me in a recent conference, "Julia is fully confident in herself and her abilities. She knows that she will always know the right answer, and that gives her the ability to respond when I call on her, even though the speaking itself is hard for her." What a beautiful thing to hear about you. I'm proud to see you finding your own voice, of course. But I'm even more in awe of your steady confidence and your unwavering belief in yourself. May you never lose those traits.

At 5, you are a study in contradictions. You read chapter books written for children at least 3 years your senior with ease and you throw tantrums worthy of children at least 3 years younger than you with equal finesse. You are poised and polite one moment and completely uncontrollable the next. You teach and protect and guide your younger brother in ways that would make any parent proud and you snatch toys out of his grasp in a way that would make any parent cringe. You are nearly silent in large groups and nearly overbearing one-on-one. You can calculate higher math problems without blinking and yet you seem to grasp little about the basics of daily life. You are helpful and cheerful and you are terrific company, that is, unless you have decided that you simply cannot hear my voice when I ask you to do something. Do I understand you? Less and less each day. But do I love you? More than I ever thought possible.

Happy 5th birthday, my sweet, wonderful girl. I may remember this as the year I first saw the buds of your own wings begin to appear, but I am immensely grateful that I have many, many happy years of sharing my nest with you still ahead before you eventually fly away. I look forward to all of them, starting with this one.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Culture shock

The Christmas Panto is a longstanding British holiday tradition about which I knew virtually nothing when an American expat friend and I decided to get in on the action. (In hindsight, I could as easily have Googled "panto" before we went as I did to put that link in here and I probably would have saved myself a good deal of surprise. That would never have been as much fun, though.) We knew that pantos are supposed to provide good theatrical entertainment for kids, we knew that there was some sort of audience interaction component, and we knew that Henry Winkler was playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan this panto season. It all sounded quite lovely, but truth be told, red-blooded American girls that we are, they really had us at the Fonz. We booked tickets, left our young sons at home with their fathers and headed out with our daughters for a fun Girls' Evening Out at the theatre.

A side note: In addition to not researching pantos, we also neglected to research the theatre location before booking. Theatre + London = West End, right? As it turns out, not necessarily. In this case, it meant Wimbledon, which is slightly further from here than, say, Timbucktu. Our Girls' Evening Out became a Girls' Day And Evening And Long Into The Night Out by the time we'd both found our way to the area, had a bite to eat, seen the performance and returned home. Is it my imagination, or is my lack of research skills becoming an ongoing theme here lately?

Our girls, a 3 1/2 year old and two 5-this-weeks, were all nearly as excited to see Tinkerbell as their moms were to check out an aging Happy Days hot shot. We still weren't quite sure what to expect from the whole panto thing, however. "I hope this isn't too weird," we whispered to each other as we watched hundreds of costumed, sword-wielding children enter the theatre. At last, the curtain came up on a gorgeous set and beautifully costumed characters, and I felt myself relax a little. Obviously a panto couldn't be that different from regular children's theater, right? As Peter Pan soared across the stage for the first time, all 3 girls caught their breath and I smiled at my friend over their heads. This outing had been a great idea.

This smile turned out to be the first of many, many glances we would exchange in the next 2 1/2 hours as we were indoctrinated into the world of panto. The performance was like nothing either of us had ever seen; one minute it was traditional theater, the next minute we'd see actors step completely out of character for a little slapstick routine. There were beautifully choreographed (and hopelessly un-PC) Indian dance numbers featuring Tiger Lily and there were completely random dance numbers straight out of Grease (picture half a dozen pirates suddenly dropping their swords and rama-dama-ding-donging). Henry Winkler was every bit as likely to be teasing the stage manager, doubling over with laughter or channeling the Fonz as he was to be reciting his Captain Hook lines in character. Toilet paper rolls were flung into the audience, Wendy tenderly cared for the Little Lost Boys, the house lights came on for a rousing audience sing-along, we clapped our hands to help Tinkerbell get well and Smee took it from behind from a kangaroo. It was beyond a shadow of a doubt the most bizarre thing I had ever seen.

To say that we were all taken a bit off guard would be a healthy understatement. My favorite moment was when I looked around and realized that the theatre was filled with wild, raucous British children who were finally acting like my idea of "real kids" while our three American girls sat there, suddenly wide eyed and silent. But by the end, the girls were starting to get into the fun, and so was I. The British are notoriously private and proper, but they also have an incredibly forthright and downright dirty sense of humor. This was classic British entertainment -- bawdy and inappropriate and really, really funny. The fact that we had no idea what we were in for only made the situation even more hysterical.

I've never lived in a country with a vastly different language or culture than my own, but I have to presume that when one does so, the culture shock -- at least initially -- pretty much smacks you in the face all day long. Here in a country where, on the surface at least, the cultural and language differences are more subtle, it can be easy to forget about them much of the time. And then, when I least expect it, I get slapped with a healthy dose of culture shock. This time, the slap came in the form of slapstick, panto-style. I've never enjoyed the surprise or disorientation of being unexpectedly out of my element nearly as much.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lowered expectations

In hindsight, I'm not really sure what I was thinking when I booked a trip to Edinburgh for early January.

I did give some thought to the booking; it was on our list of places we wanted to see, it wasn't too far away, we could get inexpensive flights and we had a lead on really good accommodations. A few days in Edinburgh during the kids' endlessly long winter school break seemed a grand idea. It wasn't until after we started telling people our plans that I realized I might not have thought things through quite enough. The polite folks squinted slightly and said something like "Edinburgh? In January? Oh... lovely." Our bolder acquaintances smiled widely and wished us luck with the "Edinburgh wind." And the honest folks in our midst? They laughed their asses off.

It, uh, turns out that Edinburgh is famous for its wind and its unpredictable, lousy weather, making it a damn poor choice for a winter getaway. With the exception of Edinburgh's big Hogmanay celebration, which of course ended 2 days before we arrived in town, few in their right minds would book a pleasure trip to Edinburgh this time of year.

Oops. No wonder the airfare and accommodations were so cheap. Perhaps, we began to think, we would have done well to read the travel guides a bit more carefully before we made our plans. None of us are exactly hardy, die-hard travelers. Even after 4 months in London, the kids still seem to suspect that they actually might melt in the right rainy circumstances, and as fair-weather sightseers ourselves, we frankly haven't done much to correct that notion. Medicore weather could pretty much kill a vacation for us. High winds and driving rain? A total death sentence for our little jaunt up North. By the time the New Year rolled around, we were well aware of our folly and were laughing as hard as anyone about our impending departure for Edinburgh. We felt a little guilty about our lack of enthusiasm about the trip, but we were pretty much looking at a disastrous couple of days and figured we had little choice but to laugh and make the best of it.

So imagine our surprise when Edinburgh presented itself to us, sunny, beautiful and (with the exception of one very windy afternoon) not in the least bit blustery. It was almost a shame to be indoors so much on such beautiful days, but I had already booked my kids into a special children's art program at the City Art Centre and planned a trip to Dynamic Earth. Thankfully, both ended up being very nearly worth the trip in and of themselves and there was still plenty of sunshine to go around. We explored the castle, walked the Royal Mile and Princes Street, dined with Frankenstein, enjoyed hot chocolate in the former workshop of the man who inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even savored an unexpected, blissful, quasi-grownup hour in a pub after Evan fell asleep in his stroller (a large piece of chocolate cake kept Julia quietly entertained enough for us to nearly forget her presence).

Once the kids discovered that there was no danger of them washing away in Edinburgh and realized that the city had its own share of carousels and chocolate, they were sold on the place. I must admit, I had to agree. I found the history fascinating, the scenery beautiful, the people warm and the weather surprisingly mild. Edinburgh is a small enough city for us to have seen it in a few days, and I doubt there will be reason for us to return (though I would like to see more of the Scottish countryside at some point). And that's a shame, because I kind of fell in love with Edinburgh this week.

Would I have liked Edinburgh so much even if I hadn't had such low expectations before we went? I can't really say. Perhaps I'm placing too much importance on our feelings of dread before we boarded that plane and not giving enough credit to the terrific city we discovered once we landed. All I know is that we spent much of last week expressing surprise and delight about how much we were enjoying out time in Edinburgh, and I can't help but suspect that our lack of faith and enthusiasm going into this trip played an ironic role in its eventual success.

So, another European adventure under our belts. Lessons learned? Well, for one, Edinburgh's a great city, and a trip I heartily recommend (though if it's rainy and windy, don't blame me). In addition, regardless of your destination, guidebook advice about things like weather is probably overrated and best ignored (the lousy planner in me is pretty grateful to be let off the hook on this one). And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a little healthy dread of an impending vacation.

I, for one, plan to cease looking forward to next month's journey to Portugal immediately...