My Favorite Things

I’ve never felt homesick before. Not when I went to China for the first time. Not when I moved to the Netherlands. Sure, there were people and places I missed but I never felt sick to my stomach or anxious or unable to repress a desire to return. These are, apparently, all common ways of feeling homesick.

Homesickness is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety and oftentimes difficulty coping with the new environment. […] It’s associated with insomnia, problems with appetite, difficulty concentrating. It’s a very painful condition.”

Rick Warrens as quoted by Carolina Bologna, “What Happens To Your Mind And Body When You Feel Homesick” in Huffington Post, 27 June 2018

Homesick is what you’re supposed to feel after your flight has taken off. But I am experiencing anticipatory homesickness. There are so many things I’m going to miss while we’re off on our round-the-world adventure. Here is a list of those favorite things.

My Garden

homesick for my garden
My first harvest 2018

I have not always been a great gardener. In fact, I pretty much suck at it. But for the past few years and thanks to a lot of help, I’m starting to get the hang of it. Gardening is the first thing I do in the morning, in my bathrobe, before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. I’ll thin the radishes or hunt for slugs. This morning, I watered my vegetable beds and the rest of the garden, too, in anticipation of the heat wave this week.

These past few weeks I’ve been writing in the garden. Usually it’s late in the afternoon when I edit what I’ve written in the morning. You can call it a schedule or simply a rhythm. It’s how I make sure all my works-in-progress are done before we leave.

We’ll probably eat dinner in the garden tonight when, hopefully, the air cools down. I can imagine that we’ll eat outside quite a lot during our trip. Maybe we’ll be on the coast of Tasmania or kicking back under a parasol on an Hawaiian island.

So why does my garden make me feel homesick? Because it makes me think about time. Vegetables won’t grow if you plant them in the wrong season. Tomatoes need to be fed when the fruit is still green. You should eat snow peas when they’re young and thin. I won’t be here this fall to harvest my kale.

My Bicycle

Homesick for my bike
Me and my bike. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

As a true Amsterdammer, I get around town using my trusty bike. It’s the only sane mode of transportation in a city of winding canals and astronomical paid parking. Even the fabulous Dutch public transportation can’t beat a bike in terms of speed. I can bike across town to get my rabies vaccination faster than any subway, tram, or bus.

Hold on, you say, aren’t there bikes in Vietnam and Cambodia, Korea and Japan? Yes, indeed, there are and we fully intend to make use of them. Our guesthouse in Siem Reap offers free bicycles to tour the temples of Angkor Wat. And yet the thought of leaving behind my own three-speed bike makes me feel homesick, too.

To me, that bike represents familiarity. My husband won’t believe me but I really do know my way around town. Perhaps not the most efficient route from A to B. But I know where to buy my tofu, get my hair cut or brunch downtown. The kind of addresses that belong in a little black book take years to acquire.

When I moved to Amsterdam 30 years ago, I knew none of these things. It was the hardest part of the move for me, more painful than having to learn a new language or legal system. It had not occurred to me, until that point, how foreign I had become.

We’ll be foreigners in every destination we visit. Not even Los Angeles where my parents live qualifies as home anymore. We’ll have to fumble our way around to find our food and museums and parks. For sure, we’ll get lost. But wasn’t that the idea?

My Spice Drawer

Food, as many of you know, is an important part of my life. Eating it but also cooking it for myself or for others. I’m a pretty ecumenical cook. Middle Eastern, Asian, haute cuisine or down-home cooking, I’m game for all of it. Hence the variety in my spice drawers.

At this particular point in time, I have almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and pistachios. Cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and allspice in whole or ground form. In the category of chili peppers, I have ancho, pasilla, chipotle, guajillo, and Sichuan (long and pepper). Hungry, anyone? Come on over and I’ll cook!

homesick for my spice drawers
My spice drawers. Photo credit: Karen Kao

We will of course be cooking on this trip. I can’t wait to browse my first farmer’s market, packed with spices and vegetables and beasts I’ve never seen before. This will be cooking by trial and error, the best kind!

Yet, cooking to me is a contact sport. You need family and friends around the table. You want to surprise them with a new recipe or lessen their own homesickness by making something familiar.

At the end of the day, it’s the people I’ll miss. My kids, my friends, the people who populate my day-to-day life. To be homesick is to miss the familiar, but also the loved.

Or maybe this anticipatory homesickness is nothing more than fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the unpredictable. Fear of all those things I cannot control.

Forget about fear! Alain de Botton says that travel is one of the best ways to learn how to be brave. And so off we go.

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