Grounded

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My employer announced early this month that all business travel was canceled for March, and then yesterday HR announced that the travel restriction would be extended through April.

The first announcement was a little surprising, but the second — given the chaos of the last week and the president’s not-so-reassuring Oval Office address on Wednesday that resulted in a strict ban on Schengen travelers to the US — was widely anticipated.

I’d been traveling so much the past year, mostly for business with a couple of personal trips thrown in there for good measure, including one to Asia in December, that it’s a little jarring to suddenly find myself with a long, long stretch of being homebound ahead of me. I’d just come back from a trip to Singapore when our first internal travel ban was announced, and I’m not going to lie: I was relieved that the ban only came down after I’d already returned. I love Singapore and especially loved the chance to go there on my employer’s dime, evangelizing WordPress.com and establishing friendships and relationships that I hope will result in some exciting opportunities for us. When the current pandemic dies down, that is. Did I mention that I absolutely adore my job?

Still, now that I’ve had some time to re-establish a regular routine at home, there’s something to be said for being unexpectedly grounded for an indefinite period of time. There’s no running commentary in the back of my mind, keeping track of what travel size toiletries I need to stock up on before my next trip, checking the American Airlines seating charts to see if I can move myself to a better positioned seat, opening up LinkedIn to see if there is someone else with whom I should connect at my next destination, scanning my local library’s Kindle collection for new titles to add to my device.

I can walk my pups.

I can make doctor’s appointments…and not have to reschedule them.

I can run without having to make the mental calculations of where and when I can run next week, plotting out tentative running routes in unknown cities, translating km to mi and wondering how much I can trust local reviews on popular running routes. (Pro-tip: running in Manila’s Luneta Park is only fun on Saturday mornings if you enjoy dodging and weaving hundreds of kids, dogs, vendors, cleaning crews, and other runners.The upside? A kiosk selling cold bottled water for less than 50 cents every few feet.)

I can let the dry cleaning pile up.

I can bake bread and pastries and cookies and know that I can actually eat some of them before giving them away. (And who am I kidding — given that the world is going to hell, there’s a lot of stress baking going on in my house right now.)

My latest baking experiment: forgetting to incorporate M&Ms into a traditional sugar cookie recipe, and to make up for it I just studded the outside with them. Still yummy. M&Ms can only ever improve a recipe.

I can — and this is what I’m really excited about — plan my new garden for spring, knowing that I’ll actually be here to work on the soil, plant the seedlings, and watch them grow, at least the first few weeks.

My office is starting to look less like I just moved in, and more like a warm and inviting place in which I’d like to hang around all day.

I can get used to this.

For now. My job requires establishing and cementing relationships with potential partners, and it’s hard to do that over even frequent Zoom hangouts and phone calls. Great connections happen over coffee, over meals, over cocktails, over handshakes and laughs and new jokes said in voices without the echo of VoIP. There’s a magic and psychic energy in personal connections that is almost impossible to replicate over video conference, no matter how advanced the technology.

I need to get back on the road and in the air.

But for now, though, I relish the peace and stillness of being home. To everything there is a season.

I Left My Knife in San Francisco

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I’ve flown since I was seven years old. That’s when my mom packed up us little ones — my two younger brothers and I — and took us to this magical, faraway place known as Dallas, Texas. Since then, I’ve flown on airlines no longer in existence (Texas International. Pan Am. Braniff. TWA. Northwest Orient, which still exists as Northwest Airlines but I miss the old name.) and airlines that are barely hanging on to its assets and reputation (Malaysia Airlines). I’ve flown by myself as a wee one — from Manila to Dallas when I was nine — and with a big group — my JET Programme colleagues in 1994.

I’ve gotten lost in airports (DFW, my own home airport) and even in airplanes (I exited a lavatory and turned down the wrong aisle when I was seven; I still remember the panic). I’ve sat at the very back of a plane during long-haul flights and have also had the blissful pleasure of experiencing First Class and Business Class. I’ve thrown up in planes, suffered through horrible, ear-splitting colds on planes, and even had a total stranger nearly propose to me on a plane. (Long story that has to do with some pretty awful turbulence.)

So yeah, I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveler.

And yet, despite all that experience, all those years of navigating the world through its best and worst airports, all those thousands of hours sitting in giant metal tubes waiting to be hurtled across time and space, I somehow still manage to stumble and make what can only be called rookie mistakes.

I’ve missed flights after misreading departure times. I’ve overpacked and have had to frantically repack suitcases on the floor in front of the ticketing agent. I’ve forgotten to call and confirm my return international flights and thus have lost those reservations. I’ve just barely made it to the gate after oversleeping. (This was back when you could show up at the gate just as they’re closing the doors and still be allowed on the plane.)

And yep, I’ve packed forbidden objects in my carry-on bags and have had to surrender them at security.

The last time this happened was last week, in fact. I like packing things the night before my departure so that I can be ready to go the next morning, but there’s always something that you have to leave for the last minute: your facial wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, maybe shampoo if you’re going to shower the next morning.

Last Thursday morning was no different, but I was prepared. I had everything packed up and ready to go by the time my shuttle arrived at 5am sharp. This, despite the fact that I had a hotel roommate who didn’t have to leave until the next day, so I was doing all of my last-minute packing and morning ablutions in near-darkness, helped only by the ghoulish light from my smartphone.

Still, I was quite smug when I showed up at SFO Terminal 2, wielding my TSA Pre-check boarding pass, all ready to breeze through security. It didn’t faze me at all when the TSA agent flagged my little backpack for further inspection because, hey, I still got to keep my shoes and jacket on and didn’t have to pull out my laptop. A routine bag check was nothing, and I was still 2 hours early for my flight anyway.

“You have a knife in here,” the TSA agent said as she led me to a corner desk.

It took me a moment to process that gentle accusation, so kindly delivered that I had to pause and register that it was something that could prevent me from continuing on my merry way towards the nearest coffee shop.

A knife? In my bag? What the …?

And then I remembered. The lovely Swiss Army knife that my husband had given me for my birthday, one that I’d wanted for years since I’d lost my last one at the Austin airport — you guessed it — the last time I accidentally left it in my carry-on. That time I had no recourse, and I had to rush to catch my plane, so I helplessly had to surrender that beloved knife, a knife that had saved me more times than I could count on numerous backpacking trips across several continents. A knife that I had stolen borrowed from my ex-boyfriend after we broke up, and one that proudly sported a little scorch mark after I accidentally left a mosquito coil burning a tad too long in an insect-infested youth hostel in rural India.

This time, however, I’d left plenty of time. The TSA agent rummaged through my bag and found the offending knife, hidden deep in a front pocket, and offered to escort me back to the front, unsecured area so that I could mail my knife back home.

If nothing else, I could tweet that I was “escorted by TSA out of security.” There is that.

I’ve been told by the very sympathetic TSA agent (is that an oxymoron?) that the mailing process is a “slow boat to China.” I don’t really care if it takes six months as long as I get it back. I still remember that sinking feeling of dread after that plastic baggie with the mailing form and the shiny, heavy pocketknife slipped out of my hands and into the mailing slot. It only took me a few minutes to get back through security again and into the safety of the gate area, but it took me far longer to get over the nagging feeling that I was missing an important part of me.

 

My Own Little Italy

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It’s been nearly two months now since I went to Sicily, Italy, for our team meetup (I’m a Happiness Engineer on the Store Team at Automattic, the division of the company whose twin purposes are to keep the WordPress.com Store running smoothly and to keep our Store clients happy), and I finally am getting around to posting the pics I took of that mad, 6-day working-and-eating bacchanalia.

As a reference point, we stayed at the Grand Hotel des Palmes in Palermo for the entire week, using it as our home base over the weekend while we ventured out on day trips to the historic site of Agrigento and the rustic fishing village of Cefalu. The hotel had a lot of…issues, many of them having to do with spotty wifi, which is verboten when your client is a cloud-based company that runs nearly a quarter of the world’s websites.

But in terms of location — just a fifteen-minute walk from the harbor and across the street from a charming little coffeehouse with a Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s theme (complete with a very large poster of Audrey Hepburn in that famous black dress — served as some compensation, and the expansive breakfast buffet, which included a seemingly endless supply of yummy cannoli, helped kick off each day on a high note. It was the first time I’d ever had cannoli ever, so it felt only fitting that I would finally indulge in that rich, melt-in-your-mouth dish in its native home.

(Note: These were all taken using my Nexus 4 camera and have yet to be edited. I just wanted them up and published!)