I’ve lived abroad for five years (six if you count the flash year I lived in North Carolina (much of the South could qualify as another country, to be sure)). So when I come “home-ish,” which is where my mom cooks and the dogs are, it is a capital B Big Deal for me.
There is preparation involved: I make a playlist for the plane ride, crowdsource via Instagram for books to load on my Kindle and probably not read, strategize over when to take a sleeping pill to minimize jet lag. I plan a facebook status update, incessantly check weather and turbulence reports, and prioritize food to eat while Stateside.
It’s work, people.
In the end, despite all good intentions and years of practice, I usually have some wine, stare at the suitcases for an hour, hope a packing fairy sneaks into my apartment and does it all for me, and then throw things in a bag, knowing that as long as I have the essentials (glasses, mouthguard, comfy shoes) I will be okay. Because in beautiful, sweet, blessed America, there is Target. If I need to buy underwear and hair dye in the same hour I pick up a gallon of milk and redecorate my home, I could get it done. It’s what America is all about. It’s what the pilgrims came here for. Like, for sure.
As organized as I think I am, every year I also discover boxes of clothes I stashed away in a relative’s closet from last time. Or the time or time before. Which makes for a mini-Christmas as I open each box and say “I had forgotten about this dress!” Then it becomes slightly depressing because “ah…. thanks, my thirties and Hong Kong – that dress no longer fits!” But I donate now, instead of holding on to them and pretending I’m about to spontaneously lose twenty pounds. The spirit of Marie Kondo’s Netflix special hovering over me, I thank them for the joy we shared together, and then donate them to those that need a floral or mustard yellow anything (it’s my spirit color).
I come home to the States most summers with big plans and ideas, and enthusiastically accomplish all the ones that have to do with food. My goals are always to spend time with my dogs and my family, and see friends if possible. Moving away and coming back sporadically speeds up the natural shakedown of friendships that occurs from your late twenties into your thirties. Instead of feeling like I need to see everyone I ever knew, I now just follow up on the people who reach out to me and can accommodate when I say “so, driving kind of scares me now. And I’m on a no-makeup, yoga pants every day kind of vibe for the next five weeks, and never want to leave my dogs. How does that work for you?” and see if they text back after that.
It always delights me to see who is in fact, able to work with my weird. Former drama teachers/babysitters/small group leaders/students/childhood soccer teammates cool enough to say “yeah, that’s fine. Let’s catch up.”
Because people are generally lovely.
One of my most treasured annual home-ish traditions is to go camping. This year, my sister Jenna and I went to Donner Lake, one of my favorite spots. If you don’t know, the Donner party were CANNIBALS! They got stuck in snow crossing a sketchy mountain pass and basically all ate each other. There’s a museum and all this history we learn as young Californians and I have always had a morbid fascination with the tale. So I like to camp on those spooky grounds.
There’s a lake and meadows and normal camp stuff, too. FYI. But CANNIBALS.
We had a magical campsite with hardly any children around and nothing behind us except a meadow. We’d brought an eight person tent, which gave the two of us just enough room to not kill each other over four days. It’s important to plan for a little space and grace in camping, because I usually bring round tablecloths for a square table, or grab folding tables instead of the right amount of chairs.
There are so many things I love about camping. I love getting out to nature and seeing how dirty I can get before I gross myself out and pay for a shower. Dirt collects around my feet until I look like a hobbit and I’m almost ready to fish through the seat cushions of my mom’s car for quarters for a shower but then we head to the lake. And going in a lake counts as a shower. Science.
I love that the only appropriate music while camping is country or classic rock. One must eat bacon every morning. And the perfume that is citronella and sunscreen and campfire. I love that it feels absolutely necessary to have certain snacks while camping that we never have in normal life, like onion dip and salami sandwiches. That everyone becomes a ruthless Vegas cardshark while camping.
I make a massive, detailed Pinterest board for every camping trip I take, full of creative “hacks” and ideas. And then we just de the same thing my family’s been doing for 40 odd years of camping – premade spaghetti and taco salad for dinner, overpack the snacks, and rely on gas stations for the essentials we forget.
The rebel in me and the teacher in me loves being challenged by the absence of rules or real sense of time and proper behavior when camping. We just set up the tent, so, beer? Yes. It’s 9am, so, s’mores on that fire we just made for coffee? OF COURSE. We caught nothing at fishing today, and that looks like a restaurant, should we stop? VAMONOS!
We buy things from REI that we probably don’t need that never fit back into their tiny packages and eat Cheezits and read a book a day and stare at flames for six to seven hours every night. And call it a massive win. Camping was beautiful this year, as it always is. Thanks, sister.
Another favorite summer ritual is hanging out with my bestie Traci, dancing to songs from college, eating everything in my parents’ pantry, snuggling into bed to watch terrible reality TV and staying up all night like we’re 19 and invincible again.
In all the catching up with friends over this summer, one person I have particularly missed is my baby sister, Sophie, who has moved to Tennessee and is getting married in a few weeks! I am so happy for her, even if I was so sad this summer to miss all the normal time we spent getting dressed in workout clothes to drive to frozen yogurt shops, and then laying in bed all day watching movies we knew all the words to. Day drinking by the pool and telling the dogs we’d throw ourselves in front of trains for them. Plotting to marry Channing Tatum or Mr. Darcy.
I’ve spent all of my thirties abroad. I turned 30 in Puerto Rico and have hopped around the world since then. Ten, fifteen years ago, had you asked me, I would have said my thirties would be spent raising kids and coaching their various sports teams and driving a minivan and finding french fries in the center console. I would have pictured a somewhat beat up house in Pleasant Hill, close to where my parents raised me, bikes on the front lawn, dogs peering over the fence and paperwhite flowers under the windows, smelling like a little bit of heaven, just like I had growing up. My sisters and best friends would live on the same cul-de-sac, and we’d raise tribes of well-educated, kind, feminist, multi-lingual cool as kids together. Enough for our own soccer teams. There’d be Fourth of July Pancakes at the Senior Citizens Center, chaperoning field trips to Rodgers Ranch to learn about goats and churning butter, and walking on the Contra Costa Canal to feed the ducks, casually embarrassing my kids by pointing out the bench I got my first kiss on.
My other life plans included starring on Saturday Night Live and then flawlessly transitioning to an Oscar and record deals. Alas.
My current and ever-evolving life is so far from that, God has to be laughing at my plans. I picture this almighty being cry-laughing, wiping away tears, looking at me fondly from the Heavens, chuckling with my guardian angels, saying “ah, Rachel. You do amuse me.”
Meanwhile my guardian angels (I’m assuming I get at least two, due to travel and personality demands) are begging “please, Lord, a different assignment. She is so troublesome. We’d really like a win. This one feels much more like a general public warning.”
If I am a general public warning, then that means I have some regrets to speak to and let you all learn from my wisdom. Let me dig deep here for a moment and see if I have any truly important lessons to depart that I’ve learned from these last few weeks at home.
In no particular order:
- Tell your truth. Maybe not with everyone. But with those who have earned the right to hear it.
- Wear sunscreen and drink water and do crossword puzzles.
- Show up. In a text, in a meme, in a call, in a letter, on the front step. Show up.
- Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired. Laugh if it’s funny.
- It’s lovely to be bored.
- Love and live with no expectation of return on investment.
- Because lists should be in sevens . . . if it’s not great, add Ranch dressing.
Until next time, California!