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Observations from my Mixed Up World


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Business Travel (also traveling alone)

I’m getting ready to head out of town for a couple of nights on business.  Under normal conditions getting ready to be away takes a certain amount of both mental and physical preparation.  With my current personal challenges preparing myself to be away is much harder than I’d like to admit.  I’ve been letting the nerves get the most of me too much lately and have canceled at least 3 overnights in the past few months.  I’d like to thank Marriott for having a cancellation policy that lets me cancel up to 6 pm the day of travel.  Then again, maybe some day, I’ll sue them for enabling me to avoid my problems.  That sounds better, doesn’t it?

Getting ready to travel means I need to anticipate everything  I might need to do while I’m gone and arrange for it in advance.  Things like getting garbage out to the curb or cleaning up the house can be easily done ahead of time.  There are other things more tedious however.  Since I make everyone’s lunches, it means I need to clear space in the fridge to lay out everything for each person in nice straight lines.  Not so hard for one day, but this time I’m away for two.  So sandwiches need to be pre-made, juice boxes staggered, spoons balanced a top yogurt cups and fresh fruit needs to find logical spaces to dwell.  Two nights away also means two dinners I won’t be home to make.  I try to encourage my wife to eat at her mother’s or to go out for dinner when I’m away.  It tends to reduce the number of phone calls around dinner time asking where the fuck do I hide the ketchup or letting me know what an asshole I am because I didn’t specify which of the 2 fridges something was in.  The worst phone call I ever got went something like this:

Wife:  I’m making macaroni and cheese for the kids tonight.

Me:  Why?

Wife:  They laughed at me when I said we were going to Tim Hortons.  They teased me and said I couldn’t cook.

Me:  Oh.  So what’s up?

Wife:  I can’t get the stove top to light. (Gas stove)  How do I do it?

Me:  Turn the knob to light and then  (BOOOOOOM!  Massive explosion echos through the phone.  Screams.  Shock wave creates a tsunami my beer glass 150 kilometers away)

Me:  (frantic)  What happened, what happened?

Wife:  I had it on high while I called you.  It’s ok now.  I was just scared.

Me:  (cancelling auto dial to my insurance agent my other phone)  Jesus Christ!!!  You were scared?  You’ve got to stop letting pride fuck with you that way.

So you can see why I need to be better prepared with meals.  I’ll make a big dinner tonight and leave left overs for tomorrow.  Microwaves are safe.  I may also take the knobs off the stove.  The next night I’ve already called my in-laws and launched a preemptive dinner.  As for me, I’ve got to get myself prepared too.

Generally, work travel also includes after-work social time.  Having established myself as not afraid to stay until the last drink has been drunk, it is going to stand out that I am not drinking (that much) and I’d prefer to avoid explanations.  Admittedly, there is a perverse imp that wants to shout “because drinking on my meds will leave me a gibbering idiot all day tomorrow, OK?”  But, it’s my problem not theirs.  So for now, I will attend socials and not host them.  It really breaks up a good party when you throw everyone out at 9:30 pm.

Those of you that do travel will also appreciate the importance of the check in phone call.  I’ve been traveling for about 9 years now and not once have I ever manage to schedule a call home, when the kids are still up and my wife can still speak civilly, that isn’t when I’m still out at dinner or at a social.  So, I generally end up standing outside a Toronto restaurant in the freezing cold trying to catch the gist of whatever the Hell Maya did at school that day.  Oh, how traffic noise, gusting winds and street people make it easier to listen to a 6 year old try to talk over the TV.  I can’t figure out why my colleagues need to have 3 hour dinners beginning at 7 pm.  I guess they’ve already paid a retainer to their divorce lawyers.

Anyways, wish me luck.  If anything interesting happens, I assure you, it will end up blogged here.

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Lost: Dining rooms… Also Lost: the modern family

Few things I say evoke a horrible sense of dread in my wife like the words “Guess what I heard on CBC today?”  Actually, I think that she’d rather go to the dentist than have to listen to me describe, in detail, the thought provoking story I heard and all of the thoughts it provoked in me.  To be truthful, when I’m feeling passive aggressive, I tell her stories from CBC just to watch her squirm.

Regardless, not so long ago, during my hour long commute home, with only my friends on CBC to keep me company, I heard one of those stories that just needed to be shared with my wife.  To my surprise, and delight, it started a really great discussion about keeping families together.  It seems that current trends in home design across North America are doing away with dining rooms.  The argument goes that houses need to be smaller and more efficient so the easiest “wasted space” to discard is the dining room.  To me, it’s an appalling commentary on why so many families are self-destructing.

I insist that our family eat at least one meal together every day.  Practical logistics (translation:  managing bathroom times) prevent us from eating breakfast together, although the kids eat at our island while I prep everyone’s lunches.  Lunches occur at work and school.  So we always eat dinner together and we will make it happen regardless of barriers.  On Wednesdays, when we need to be at swimming lessons for 5pm, we pick up the kids at school and eat at the gym before swim class.  Both my wife and I come from families that ate dinner together and for us it’s not a tradition but a value that is so important.

I come from a family where eating is at the centre of all of our celebrations.  I don’t remember vacations for amusements or sight seeing opportunities but describe them in terms of where and what we ate while we were away.  When we were at Nanny’s during holidays, she had the idea of having our whole family make pasta from scratch and then eating it for dinner.  This wasn’t an opportunity to save money.  It was a great family building experience that was ultimately photographed and scrap booked.

The act of sharing food is beyond cultural.  It is what separates us from beasts.  Yes, I know that many animals share food with their young, but don’t be so literal.  When we gather to eat, without distractions such as iPods, TV, radio, texts, email, etc and so forth, we stop for a short while and fill the silence with what happened during our days.  Things get planned, everyone gets a chance for input and everyone can say what they want.  There is nothing else to do but listen and respond.  We fill our bellies with food and that’s good.  We associate that good with communicating with each other.  That’s good too.  Really good.

So when I hear of anything eroding the eating experience, I get mad.  Really mad and mad enough to blog about it.  Get rid of the TV room, the rec room or the third bathroom.  But don’t give us another excuse to go our separate ways.  Too much is pulling us apart already.