Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An unintentional ode to my Ikea couch (that's one I never saw coming)

I am curled up on the Ikea couch in my living room, drafting a blog post. There is nothing unusual about that; this couch (which turned out to be far more comfortable than I expected when we purchased it in our flurry of frenzied furnishing) has always been my favorite place to sit and write in this flat. At this point, it's also my only option. The removals team is here today packing up the contents of our flat and virtually everything we own here is boxed or wrapped already. It is only the fact that we have sold this couch to the next tenants of this flat which has kept it from the bubble-wrap-and-packing-tape fate of the items which surround it on all sides. This is moving day, the first of two on this end. (I don't care to contemplate the number of moving days we face on the other side of the pond just now.) There are, as Julia reminded me gleefully this morning just before she left for camp, only two more days before we board our plane for America.

If ever there was a moment for a reflective wrap-up post, I suppose this would be it. Watching our London life fit easily into a surprisingly small number of boxes and containers should be the kind of thing that would make me nostalgic and maudlin. Instead, I find myself a little numb, spent from the sorting and organizing and purging and pre-packing which has consumed the last week of my life and exhausted from the sleepless nights I've spent trying not to dwell on the ways our life will change in the coming months. I've done enough looking back. I'm not quite ready to look forward just yet. And so I'm just sitting here, grateful for the opportunity to rest for a bit, trying to write a blog post on the couch as if it were any other day of my life.

I think my real issue here is that writing a conclusion-type post about our London adventure feels like drawing a line in the sand, saying that it is over. In some ways, there is no avoiding the reality that it is over. Our things are gone and soon we will be, too. But the drive to see and explore and understand that which is foreign from our own experiences is not something that we can pack in a box or leave behind when we board a plane. The things that we've learned and seen and done here are a part of who we are now and the interests and habits we've developed here aren't going away just because we are. The friendships that we made in London can withstand the distance just as well as our American friendships have over the past several years. The travel bug can certainly come with us, too; planes fly in and out of the US every bit as frequently as they arrive and depart from Heathrow and Gatwick. Hopefully, the kids' accents will last, at least for a little while. We will still talk about and think about and write about London and the people and places we love here. "Leaving" does not need to mean "leaving behind." At least that's what I keep telling myself at 2am when I can't sleep for the enormity of our impending loss. London will be in us, long after we are not in London any more.

If it's not really over then, well, then there's not much to say, is there? Except that as I sit here typing so contentedly, I do feel the need to mention that I'm kind of going to miss this Ikea couch. This "oh, what the hell, just give me whatever you've actually got in stock, then" couch, bought on what might have been the most exhausting, stressful, overwhelming, "what the hell have we done here" day of this entire London experience, is pretty damn great. In fact, it might just be the only thing standing between me and a clean break here. I'm just now realizing how much I love this "oh, if we must" purchase. I can't believe I have to leave it behind. I'm really, really going to miss this couch.

You just never know what's going to resonate, do you? If ever there were a reason to keep on moving forward, spreading our wings and taking on whichever adventures and obstacles come our way, I think I just found it in the nice, comfy cushions of my (now) beloved Ikea couch. Closure is a beautiful thing, even when you still plan to leave the door ever so slightly ajar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Folks in a town that was quite remote (heard)

I spent much of our week in Austria singing the Lonely Goatherd song from The Sound of Music. This earworm might easily be explained by the fact that we began our Austrian adventure in Salzburg, a city which bears the dubious distinction of being the home of The Sound of Music. It might further be explained by the fact that this song was the encore for a fantastic Sound of Music marionette performance which we caught at one of the world's oldest marionette theatres while we were in town. Regardless of how the song got into my brain in the first place, once we left Salzburg and ventured into gorgeous Zell Am See, I kept gazing up at the unbelievable sights of the Austrian Alps and the only words that came to mind were "lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo." Oh, how my family must have loved having me around last week. (Oh, how much you must all be loving me right now.)

Don't you just see him there, the lonely goatherd, a little off to the left?

The Alps may have inspired me to yodel (What can I say? There were lots of things high on hills. One could easily have been a lonely goatherd...), but they also took my breath away. The resort town of Zell Am See, where we spent the majority of our Austrian holiday, was stunning; tremendous mountains, a crystal clear lake, and even -- due the the well-placed, though completely accidental timing of a summer festival one of the days that we were there -- folks in lederhosen and Bavarian dresses drinking copious amounts of beer long before the pretty bell tower had even struck noon. This was our kind of town.

We've been champions of the city break up until this point, pushing our children ahead through one urban landscape after another. This trip, our "interlude between lives" holiday, was nothing like our previous travels. After a quick visit to Salzburg, we spent the majority of our time at an all-inclusive "kinderhotel" in Zell Am See. We climbed a few mountains. We forded a few streams. But quite frankly, we spent the majority of our time with our asses plonked down on lounge chairs while our children ran and played with the other kids in the resort. It took us a few days to relax and unwind, but by the end of the week, I was starting to remember what a "vacation" truly feels like. We have traveled a lot in the past 2 years. But we haven't taken a single vacation. It turns out that I really like vacations. And my kids? They really seem to like vacations, too.

We returned to London rested, somewhat relaxed (What can I say? We're pretty tightly wound...) and just a bit detached from our lives here. As our minicab slipped through the streets of London, I found myself thinking what a good idea this trip had been and congratulating myself for a such well planned, strategically placed vacation. And then we got back into our flat and dropped our bags on the floor and Paul heaved an enormous sigh of relief. "It's not your fault, because you didn't know how it would all feel," he told me. "But we're not ever traveling so close to an impending move ever again. That was an impossible situation."

Huh. So, uh, I take it all back. Perhaps we weren't all so rested and relaxed after all. Except... I kind of think we were.

King of the mountain

Sunday, July 13, 2008

But wait -- there's more

Thanks to all of you who commented or sent emails or called me about this week's photo slide show... seems it was a fitting way to wrap up an amazing two years abroad. Don't go waving us out the door just yet, however, because we still have 2 and a half weeks of nearly non-stop action, including just one more European adventure, ahead of us before we call it quits and head stateside.

If it feels a bit disjointed have watched a departure-themed retrospective only to now read about our plans for another vacation and upcoming swimming lessons and playdates and camp here in London, well, welcome to the confusing schedule of events and emotions that is my July. The kids' last day of school was last Thursday and with it came a flurry of goodbyes and the end of our regular "life as we know it" routine in London. It was an emotional week, full of busy schedules and sad farewells and way, way too much sugar. With all of that now behind us, I feel very much as if our time here has reached its natural conclusion. It's time to go. And yet due to Paul's work schedule we really can't leave for good until the end of the month, so here we still are.

People tend to get out of London pretty quickly when the school term wraps up, and a lot of the people we care about are already gone or departing momentarily. We knew this would happen and so we booked one last trip to forestall the melancholy emptiness I knew that we'd feel once we had said our goodbyes. It was a good idea... in theory. But packing for vacation when we're also packing for the US is bizarre and looking forward to the week and a half that will be left when we get back here is even odder. It's hard to know what to look forward to and what to mourn and what to think and what to pack. It's harder still to know how to feel.

Several hours from now, we will be in Austria, climbing every mountain and fording every stream and hemming and hawing bizarrely when people ask us where we're from. This will either turn out be the best way we could have spent this week or money down the drain, but the trip is booked and so off we go. Tune in a week from now to hear about Salzburg and Zell Am See. For now, to London we say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen... but not quite yet goodbye.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In lieu of 1,000 words