Friday, November 4, 2016

Home Away From Home

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Yesterday I passed the halfway point in my almost month-long visit to the UK. The tipping point, I always think of it, and it's usually about then that I suffer an attack of homesickness. This passes pretty quickly, because once I'm on the downside of the trip, I start thinking about all the things I haven't done and wondering how I'm going to cram them into the days or weeks that I have left. But for that little spell in limbo, I've come up with a few cures.

#1--See friends. I've been so blessed on this trip, not only getting to see my English friends, but having a chance to get together with friends from other places who just happen to be in London at the same time. (If you don't know anyone, make friends!)

#2--Eat comfort food. For me, the ultimate comfort food is chicken pot pie, and I had my very favorite chicken pot pie the other night (with friend!) at the Hansom Cab in Earl's Court Road, possibly my favorite London pub.

#3--Thank goodness for Skype, etc., and other means of internet communication that allow you to keep up with friends and family. I talk to Rick every night, and my daughter has been wonderful about sending me photos and videos of Wren every day.

#4--Shop:-) Giving yourself a little mission will definitely chase away the blues.  (I should be doing lots of shopping, considering the value of the dollar against the pound, but I'm spending too much money on things like afternoon tea.)

5#--Wherever you are, read a good book. Nothing beats that little nibble of melancholy like a really great read. (The new Peter Grant book by Ben Aaronovitch, THE HANGING TREE, came out today, so I'm good for the foreseeable future.)

#6--Take some time to notice all the little things you love about where you are, like this wonderful twisty tree I saw when I was walking down Earl's Court Road at dusk. 

REDS, what are your little secrets for feeling at home when away from home?
HALLIE EPHRON: I can't remember the last loooong trip I've taken alone. Even book tour gets broken up with short stops at home. Having my computer or cell phone with email and Skype keeps me feeling connected, especially to our grandbabies who are changing SO FAST it's breathtaking.

What I miss about home is being able to take a bath. Why can't hotel bathtubs be designed so you can recline and relax? Instead they're built like boxes. Having a glass of wine in the evening helps, too, or at least makes everything look fizzy and fuzzy and warm and relaxed.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I remember getting a real bout of homesickness about half-way through my six months abroad back in college. Maybe it was because I was in Germany, which connects me to my childhood and my family. What did I do? Ate dinner at a McDonalds and took myself to the showing of a new American movie (which, at that time, were being shown in Germany with subtitles.) After months of reading about English theater, British history and European culture, I bought HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE by John Irving and read it while drinking Coca Cola. (I bought and read it in Vienna, which was fitting.) While in Vienna, I also met an American boy. It's always heartening to get to know a compatriot in a foreign land. ;-) Probably not the way any of us will get over homesickness nowadays.

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm terribly prone to homesickness, even when traveling with John or a friend. Our longest trip lately was 3 weeks in Australia, two years ago. Luckily I had done the planning and the stop I knew I'd love most was just past hump day. We spent two days at an ecolodge in Cape Otway, right off the incredible Great Ocean Road. The animals were so wonderful (and the food too, and the beer.) The bout of homesickness evaporated in the face of the kangaroos, the koala bears, and the endangered tiger quoll.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  AH, hmm. DO I get homesick? I do, I guess, if I'm away longer than a few days. I miss Jonathan, and  the ease of the familiar. Where I know how the shower works, and that there'll be hot water, and I have more than one room to hang out in. But: There is a lot of enjoyment being on the road:  You can't get room service at home, or free slippers, or those chocolate chip cookies. I also like how much work I can get done without the lure of laundry or errands.   But at the end of each on-the-road day, I have a cup of tea, and a glass of wine, and watch something indulgent on TV-- and count blessings.

DEBS: Hallie, the fabulous thing about Britain is that almost everywhere has GREAT bathtubs!! (We won't talk about weird plumbing issues like no mixer taps...) See bath in photo above!

And Julia, when I lived in the UK back in the day--when the food was truly awful and you couldn't get a decent glass of wine anywhere--I DREAMED about American hamburgers. The few times I got to London and had burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe in Picadilly were heaven. Now you can get a good burger easily, at least in London and at good pubs. I think GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) is better than anything I get at home.

That is a GBK burger, and there is a GBK just at the corner of the street where I stay sometimes in Earl's Court. Can you say temptation?

READERS, what are your homesickness cures?


  1. Ah, Debs, nothing says love like daily pictures of the grandbaby!

    A good book is a heavenly distraction for those homesickness blues as are yummy food, dark chocolate, and a nice glass of wine. And with texts, photos, and Skype, it’s relatively easy to temporarily banish lingering homesickness bouts. Being so connected definitely has advantages. But the only real cure for homesickness, I think, is going home . . . .

  2. In my various years living abroad, food helped that homesickness thing. I made an all-American meal for my host family in Brazil (I was just seventeen when I went for a year...): meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. In Japan, since my boyfriend was in the Navy, once in a while we'd hit up the commissary for taco shells and peanut butter. In Mali and Burkina Faso an American friend would always put on a Thanksgiving feast, or we'd go to the American Rec Center for a hamburger and milkshake. Food always helps.

  3. I can always gauge homesickness by a little questions I ask Jonathan each night… Did we get any mail? Are the dahlias still blooming? Little things like that mean I am trying to stay connected, you know?

  4. Hank, mine are "How are the dogs?" and "Is the grass doing okay?" (Having spent months trying to get grass seed established where all our St. Augustine died. Otherwise we will be having a muddy German shepherd winter....)

  5. Curiously, Debs, I don't get homesick no matter how long I'm in Cornwall because it's somehow where I belong. Having delightful friends/hosts doesn't hurt. Been tramping around Bodmin Moor pretending to be doing research but a little voice says, "You should be writng!"

  6. Exactly, Debs! So funny… Just trying to keep your finger on the little things that surround your life at home. I don't, however, ask Jonathan if he has watered the plants inside. Because I know what the answer is…

    And guess who I met in person last night!? Coralee! What a complete joy and treasure… And we had a wonderful time at the Vero Beach bookstore.
    Love that!

  7. Hallie, I am with you on hotel bathtubs. Why? I love a bubble bath and a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Then wrap up in a fluffy robe with a book or pay-per-view...bliss.

    Usually a phone call does it for me. But sometimes it makes it worse.

    Going out with friends (if they are around) usually helps.

    And there's always chocolate.

  8. When I'm traveling, and start to feel blue, I get out and walk the neighborhood I'm in, focus on being in the place I've put myself, and try to find beautiful things about it. Of course it helps if I book myself into interesting hotels in cool places. Taking my camera along is also a good idea, so I can capture the things that catch my eye and bring them back home with stories to tell. I like to find a locally-owned coffee shop and watch the people of the neighborhood go about their daily routines, imagining what my life would be like if I lived there. On my most recent trip, I took one of my dogs. Exploring our neighborhood with him became my favorite part of the trip. I'm traveling again tomorrow, and sorry I can't take him along this time, but I'm sure there will be much to discover, and if I get lonely, I'll just have to remember to "be here, now," wherever "here" might be.

  9. Debs, it seems you are a normally cheerful person, and don't you think that helps, too? Being interested, and interesting, sounds like a key to staying out of the doldrums.

    The year before Steve and I got married I spent the entire month of April in Hartford, Connecticut, doing some training. It was a lot of fun in the evenings and on weekends, because most of the other people in my class were also in their 20's and 30's, but I found that three weeks in was my hit-the-wall point. I had to come back to Cincinnati for a weekend, just to be with Steve. That was 1981, so no internet, and phone calls were pricey.

    When I was in Europe this year I got homesick on Day 19. I don't know if it was because I was in a country where I knew no one, or if that was part of my hit-the-wall time. The cure was to walk as much as I could, and keep my mind open to the experience. One day I logged 22,000 steps on my FitBit!

    That was Prague, and the bathtub in my hotel scared the daylights out of me. It was enormous, and boxy, with very narrow sides (impossible to sit on), along with a glass half wall that kept the water off the floor (kind of), and no handrail of any kind. But the sides were so high I felt as though it needed a stile to get into and out of it safely. Every time I used it I had visions of falling, getting knocked out, and being found the next day, cold and stiff. No one would have heard my screams, the room was so remote.

  10. Oh Hank. Reading your comments on homesickness, and suddenly got goosebumps; you mentioned me by name . It was such an honor to meet you. Roberta said earlier on this board that if I ever saw you in person I would not be disappointed. So very very true. I kept thinking what a consummate professional you are. You speak quickly, however your enunciation is so clear, I could still understand much of what you shared. I wanted to tell the Jungle Reds that I met a magician last night. She transformed an alcove in a book shop into a place where creativity was lovingly explained. You told us you wanted to make a difference in the world, that you knew you had. Now you know you have made a difference in one little round person from Tampa. I will treasure yesterday's memory. Namaste.

  11. I haven't been homesick since I went away to school, back in the last mid-century. However I do get bed-sick and pillow-sick and big comfy chair-sick. The older I get, the less able I am to adapt to those three things. One of the big issues when we rent an apartment is whether there are two club chairs that we can sit it and read a book. It's miserable for me to have no where to sit but the bed. Deb, I can identify with your need to have a desk and chair at a comfortable height for writing.

    There's a book title in here somewhere, BED, PILLOW AND CHAIR maybe?

  12. I lived in South America right after college, and I'm not sure, to this day, that I handled homesickness very well -- AKA culture shock. But I remember going to Pizza Hut in Quito, Ecuador. Pizza Hut! It was a bizarre sight. The only American food chain there. (I'm sure that's changed!) Since I was living there, one of the things I did to keep my brain active outside my day job was learn new things. I bought a guitar and took lessons. I tried out hang-gliding (no go!). Toward the end I took Portuguese lessons. The new hobbies helped my culture shocks, for sure.

    These days, I mostly travel to Ireland for novel research. I get over the homesickness by making sure I have a regular pub (or two) and a regular coffeeshop. Helps to have people recognize me and say "What's the craic?" :-)

  13. You know, the last two times I felt "homesick" I wasn't missing the place, food, etc. - I was missing my young children. Ross and I went on an amazing 19 day safari back in '98 thanks to the generosity of his father (the trip) and my parents (watching our two kids.) I was fine until we got on the plane in Johannesburg to come home. From that moment on, I was WILD to get to Portland and see my babies.

    Same thing a few years later in, I think, '04, when Denise Hamilton and I went on a crazy long joint book tour (The Murdering Mommies.) The longest stretch was two weeks away from home in the Pacific Northwest, and when I discovered I had MISSED my flight (returning the rental car had been a nightmare) I started crying uncontrollably and moaning, "My kids! My kids!" right in front of the agents. You can bet they found me another flight back to Boston right quick.

  14. Julia, the first time I left Kayti was when she was two, and her dad and I made a two-week trip to the UK. I didn't think I would survive after the first week, I missed her so much. I totally get it.

    She, of course, was perfectly happy with her grandparents.

  15. My first time in the UK was in the seventies. I was in college so suffice it to the Ritz was off my radar. I remember a shared bathroom and shillings to make the water flow.

    I don't get homesick. Sounds strange, oh, I miss hubby, pets, friends, and yes, the familiar, but I'm so busy absorbing everything wherever I am that homesick doesn't enter into the equation. My husband says I'm a chameleon. I adapt, enjoy, and immerse. He hates to travel with me because I'm the one racing off the beaten track and trying everything new, while he likes the familiar. No floppy bacon for him in Britain (he's never even tried it) while I seek it out and buy it in the US!