I pull the short, sharp fruit knife out of the drawer and set it to work slicing up an array of beautiful, fresh California fruits. It slides through the soft apricot that falls apart from its small, hard center but needs some added pressure from my hands to get through the just ripe apple. How my heart sings to enjoy these small pleasures of my home state after living overseas. My multicolored fruit medley mixed up in a shallow bowl, I pull the computer towards me and type in our Airbnb WiFi password “tahoetime.” The high altitude already making us a bit woozy, we have quickly fallen into a slower rhythm. After 39 days of traveling from place to place in frequently frenzied fashion, I find myself relishing the rallentando, the easy slow down into holiday time.
Home leave – 20+ working days off to reconnect to America between our tours – has been an incredible opportunity to see family and friends, explore new and old places, and strengthen our marriage. Being together 24/7, often in enclosed spaces, and through long travel-filled days has certainly been a test of our resilience, individual and as a couple, that so far, we have been passing… but perhaps with some scribbled notes in the margins and clarifications and occasional solo walks to clear heads and stretch frayed nerves. Yes, home leave has also been a lot of work, of planning, preparing, seemingly endless packing, and long days that leave us tired.
Meanwhile, Amaury and I have both been in the thick of job hunting. Cover letters, revising resumes, reviewing international time differences, and sending off packets of documents. Strategizing next moves is a constant of serial expat life; it does not stop for home leave. We do not always feel on vacation.
We perfect our elevator pitches in conversations with friends in San Diego, LA, Monterey, Sacramento, and Davis and in brainstorm sessions together in New Orleans, Denver, and Santa Barbara. As we sit in airports, planes, and in our rental car driving up the California Coast, we reflect on where we’ve come from and look forward to where we want to go. We are firm believers in manifesting goals, in building up dreams, in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20+ year plans that shift and contain room for bumps, obstacles, fears, and faith.
Our friends have many questions for us, and we tighten up our narrative. They have great advice and thoughtful perspectives. They open up their own lives to us as we catch up and hear about what’s been going on in the past 1-8 years since we’ve last seen them. Some are meeting Amaury for the first time, some were at our wedding, and others had us at theirs. All the people we see have a special place in our lives, and I’m thankful for the time we get together over coffee/lunch/dinner, while staying with them (invading their living rooms and guest rooms with our growing pile of luggage), walking around town, cuddling babies, or (definitely a highlight) at Disneyland.
Of course, we also sight-see everywhere. Which with us means eating our way through each city and walking a lot. Back in Long Island, Amaury buys me a Fitbit to finally answer my repeated, “How far do you think we walked today?”
Gotta get those steps in.
I suppose as a travel blog I should really delve into the things to do/eat/see in each place we visit. While of course there’s plenty of material for that kind of letter, today I’m embracing the journey. I’m relishing in the gentle easing of my mind after the challenges, projects, and adventures of living in China.
It is fitting, then, that so far, my favorite part of our trip is the long, winding drive up the newly opened CA-1. It takes us up through Carmel, Pismo Beach, past Hearst Castle, and on through Big Sur. Stunning vistas, sudden switchback turns that force me to pay attention- my hands gripping the wheel, my eyes on the road- and the coast that weaves into view as the road takes us back and forth. It is a long drive, and I am so tired but not ready for it to end even as the sun starts to set, sending hazy, eye-watering light smashing into my aching eyes.
The road to Monterey smells like strawberries. A full basket of them sits on Amaury’s lap and empties as he slowly feeds them to me. We listen to Malcom Gladwell’s “Revisionist History,” and his warm, melodic voice seems to match the undulating road and give character to the cliffs, the windswept beaches, the wildflowers gripping the sun-soaked, dry ground. We pull over a few times and marvel at the view.
Re-acclimating to the US after being abroad is always a tricky transition. This is the first time I’ve had a full vacation dedicated to just that and, despite all the packing and prepping, I’m thankful. I think we’ll be adjusting for a while, softening some of the sharp edges we gained in hectic, humid, hot Guangzhou and finding the open places laid bare from being vulnerable in a strange and different country for two years. I’m finding that I am both more aggressive and less demanding, more confident and less certain, more myself than ever and never the same again. China has taught me to embrace contradictions, question less, embrace the unknown more.
We’re at day 39. 7 more to go until we settle down in Arlington, VA for 10 months. I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey. I’m ready to arrive.
This is the kind of writing I like to do. I find myself narrating our travels, finding descriptions in the quiet moments and between pauses in conversations, feeling words bubbling up as I do the most mundane tasks made sweet. Cutting fruit, eating strawberries, driving the long way round, trying, often in spite of myself, to take home leave slow.