Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

The Act of Swapping Coasts (in the US)

I wake with a start. Natural light enters the bedroom. Something is terribly wrong. I fumble to look for the time. “Oh no, it’s 7:45. My plane leaves in 30 minutes. There is no way I can make it!” This is my worst nightmare.

I wake with a start. It is pitch black in the room. We never close the shades. I relax the smallest bit. It is supposed to still be dark when I need to get up, but also when I need to leave. I fumble, grab my glasses and flip the lid of my iPad. It is 4am. I sigh. Plenty of time. The dogs stir against my body. I double-check the alarm setting: 5:30am. I double-check the volume: all the way up. I only have one alarm without Mark by my side. I asked him to call me on Skype at 9am EST (6am my time), in case I overslept. Of course, my iPad is on “sleep mode” whenever I am, so someone trying to reach me will be useless.

There is no way I can fall asleep again after that dream. Around 5am, I do doze off. Wait, was that a plane flying over the house? They usually don’t start until 6:30! Oh no. Maybe it was one landing? Or, a delayed departure from last night? I am wide awake now. 5:20am. I might as well get up. I send a quick email to Mark – I’m up! Don’t worry about calling me. – and to the home owner’s mother. She requested the contact info of the helpful guy – a friend of the owner – who will take over our house sitting duties for two weeks. Time to get ready! I have 45 minutes, so don’t have to rush. Sandwiches were made and put in the fridge last night; plenty of snacks are packed. After the “blizzard of the century” in New England yesterday, I am prepared for the worst. With record low temperatures, massive snowfall, and heavy wind gusts in Boston, I expect delays getting there.

My last shower without the heat on. I eat breakfast, do the dishes and call Elvis and Frida. They are not used to getting up this early and lay together, huddled under the bed covers. They have moved from their previous spot to where I slept. Warm and cozy. I wake them and feed them. “Come on, buddy.” I try not to lose my patience. Usually, Elvis gobbles his medicines up without any issues. The pill is covered with fresh, organic peanut butter.  He manages to spit it out. I smear more peanut butter on it. Nope! I’m running out of time. The third attempt is the charm. Down goes the pill, with more peanut butter. Three servings of peanut butter. He gets away with it!

I brush my teeth, remove our toiletries from the bathroom, wipe everything down, and give the whole house a glance over. All our belongings are contained in the guest room, our bedroom. I drag the dog bed in the kitchen, so Elvis and Frida have access to the doggy door and the yard, and close the doors to the living room and hallway. Dog-proof furniture. “Bye, sweethearts. I’ll miss you, but I will be back.” I hug the two Italian Greyhounds, give them a kiss on their fragile heads, grab my daypack and leave my temporary residence of the last two months. Dawn is breaking as I briskly walk towards Liberty Station. I decided to get to the airport on foot and am loving it. No stress about my ride showing up late. Or never.

Mark and I were scheduled to fly out on the same day, but because his mother was doing worse than expected after her stroke and subsequent surgeries, and because “watching” all the hospital antics, extra procedures, complications and decision-making from afar was terribly frustrating, he changed his plane ticket and left a few days earlier. He took a backpack full of work stuff and our only carry-on bag. I managed to stuff most of my clothes in there with his. Today, I am reaping the benefits of my packing talent. My backpack has a few undies and toiletries, and the rest is filled with food and electronics. Traveling light. I love it!

Like clockwork, one plane after the other catapults into the sky. I hear them before I see them. 6:30am. Every minute, another one departs. Usually, we are still in bed, woken up by the noise and disturbed by the continuous mayhem, right above the roof or the yard. Certain half hours are worse than others. It is part of life in this area of San Diego. Hundreds of iron birds, taking off until 11pm. Every day. They amuse me today, as I make my way to the international airport. Each time a plane lifts off, I am one minute closer to my destination. I feel free. I feel self-reliant. I don’t need much. But, I should have brought my ergonomic pillow. I will miss that. And the dogs. And the pleasant climate. And our lifestyle all together.

The walk takes about 45 minutes, and printing my boarding passes at a United kiosk is a breeze. I even manage to change my seats to emergency exit row ones to have a bit more leg room. Normally, you pay for that, but within a couple of hours of departure, this appears to be free. As I arrive at my gate, a voice sounds over the intercom. “350 dollars. We are up to 350 dollars for anyone who is willing to give up their seat on this flight. We will get you to your destination as soon as possible and you receive a $350 travel voucher.” I am all ears, standing in line for boarding. No takers. “OK, folks. 450 dollars. What a nice Christmas gift, right? 450 dollars if you volunteer your seat to someone else.” I consider it. This would be the perfect time to take the risk and obtain a free return flight to the east coast. We could certainly use it! I only have carry-on luggage. I can tell Mark I’ll arrive later. Nobody is inconvenienced. But, what if all those other flights are delayed and I’m stuck at an airport for the night? Before I can make up my mind, someone else steps up. I guess I’m meant to get on this flight from San Diego to Washington DC. We leave on time.

Never has a plane trip gone this smoothly! I must be extremely lucky. I wander from one gate to the next, glancing at the departure screens. Many flights are delayed or canceled. The boarding process starts soon after I arrive at my gate. I devour one of my sandwiches and pick at a Ziploc bag of peanuts. My leftover pizza slices will have to wait until later. Once again, no delays, and we are scheduled to arrive in Boston ten minutes early. This can’t be true, I think, as I continue reading my book. I hoped to catch up on blog reading and commenting, but there is no internet time to be had. I better enjoy my “down time”, because soon, there will be none of that anymore.

I hold my breath and grab the arm rests of my seat tightly, when the pilot attempts to land in gusty, icy conditions. Lots of turbulence. The plane shakes violently, seconds before hitting the tarmac. The brakes whine, while airborne ice chips and white flurry obstruct my view through the window. The pilot slams on the brakes a bit harder. Passengers simultaneously jerk forward. It is dead quiet in the cabin. When we come to a stop, I swear I can hear a communal sigh of relief. The world outside is white and inhospitable. One stress is immediately replaced by another. Will I be able to make the next shuttle bus, or will I have to wait an extra hour? Mark suggested to pick me up at Boston Airport, but I opted to take the hour-long bus ride. He drives into the city every day to visit his mom at the hospital, so I figured three hours of car time is enough for him. We don’t need to add another two today.

I shouldn’t have worried. Ten minutes after the plane lands, I am standing at what I think is the right door for my scheduled bus. Usually, we wait at the bus stop outside. This appears to be impossible now, based on the mass of passengers gathered inside. I know it is cold out. I checked the forecast. There is nobody to be seen in the icy surroundings, resembling the sidewalk and streets. I give it a try. I last three seconds. A cold blast hits my unprotected face. Tears run down my cheeks and I lose the ability to breath. I’m happy for my dawn coat and fleece hat, but it is my hiking shoes that swiftly guide me back inside.

Big shock! Unfortunately, this is -10 degrees Fahrenheit and not Celsius

I went from 73°F (23°C) to -10°F (-23°C) in one day. I can’t say I like it. But, I don’t trust this is the right place to wait for my bus, so every now and then, I sprint back outside and as quickly back inside. Sorry, people. I’m a weird one! And, I’m not from around here. It is during one of these random checks, that I notice a big bus, its sides all frosty white. What does it say? As I approach the vehicle, I decipher the decals: it is the one bringing passengers to Newburyport, my destination! Soon, I’m back at my New England base, the “room above the garage”. I reunite with my husband and, after a quiet, plane-free night, am ready to shift my focus to full-time care of my parents-in-law.

Have you ever had to drop everything to take care of someone? How did it go?


  1. OMG… you walked to the airport?? I guess it isn’t all that far but it would have never occurred to me. I’m glad your flight went OK and that you found your shuttle bus under all that snow. PM me when you know the date you’ll get back. Btw, it’s about 73 and sunny here today.

    • If I would have had more luggage, it would probably not have occurred to me either to walk to the airport, but I was motivated to get some exercise, feel untethered and unworried and only take the bare essentials (apparently that involves a lot of food). 🙂 Plus, I don’t have a phone to order an Uber. Thanks for the weather update! More snow here and below freezing temps.

  2. Hi Liesbet! As usual you are having another adventure! And yes to the strange experience of waking up in one city and then going to sleep so far away in another–with extreme temps no less. Glad to hear you made it rather smoothly. (I hope you got some sleep on the plane!) And I remember being so cold that I cried too…that’s why I live where I live now. Stay warm!~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy! That’s a good point… adventure seems to follow me whatever I do or wherever I go. And, I’d like to see it that way: another adventure. Anything different and unexpected is a new experience. 🙂 No sleep on the plane, but here in Newburyport, we do seem to get about eight hours a night. We would NEVER live here either, or visit in the winter if we can avoid it. That’s why this is a very rare occasion to find us here.

  3. Oh my word! What an adventure, Liesbet. There’s nothing worse than a plane shaking violently, well maybe being outside with temperatures -10 degrees Fahrenheit…ack! That is cold! Not long ago, I had to race from my office to get my mother because my father was being transported to the hospital. Looking back, I don’t remember even driving there, and I know I was breaking every law on the road. But thankfully, I arrived safe. I hope your MIL is doing better.

    • Sorry to hear about your dad, Jill. I hope he is OK now. I remember you going through some “heavy stuff” not too long ago, reading between the lines. It is such a shock when we are confronted with news like that in regards to our loves ones. Initially, after my MIL’s first surgery and the complications, we wanted to jump on a plane and couldn’t think rationally. Luckily, we have other family members who could be in charge the first week. And, yes, my MIL finally left the hospital and is in acute rehab now, on the road to recovery.

      • I’m happy to hear your MIL is on the road to recovery, Liesbet. Thankfully, my father is okay now, but being the full-time caregiver for my mother, who has dementia, is difficult. We take it day by day, though.

        • Taking it “day by day” certainly is the best way! 🙂 I have heard and seen how difficult it is to deal with dementia, Jill, and wish you all the strength, patience and love necessary. I’m glad your dad is OK now. We are in the same situation, where the full-time caregiver was stricken (beyond all expectations!) and that doubles “the burden” on the rest of us.

  4. Two years ago, my sister in law, her husband, 4 kids were travelling from Midland, Texas to Provo, Utah, moving back after a few years away. Their van broke down an hour from Roswell, New Mexico. It was summertime, close to 100 degree heat, and they waited on the side of the road (no cell service) for three hours before someone decided to stop and help them. They finally were towed into Roswell, but were still stranded with a dead van.

    My mother in law called me that night and asked if I’d like to go on an adventure with her. Of course I was game. I dropped everything, climbed another family member’s van, drove the 12 hours to New Mexico to rescue family. It remains one of my favorite memories. Not nearly as dramatic or life changing as taking care of family who are ill, but it was interesting all the same.

    • That exciting mission certainly counts as a “drop everything and jump to the rescue” act, Ryan! It sounds like quite the adventure. Being in the desert in 100 degree weather is no joke. I assume the van got fixed, or did you have to tow it all the way back to Utah???

  5. Glad to hear you arrived safely, Liesbet. I hope your MIL is in stable condition. My parents do not live too far from me so when they experience health emergencies, I can get there by local transit.

    • There is something to be said about living close to family, Natalie. Especially when our parents get older, it is more on our mind when we travel far and wide, and extensively. Right now, my MIL is in stable condition and we are very happy about that!

  6. Hi Liesbet,
    As I was reading, I was focusing on your writing. Lots of great descriptive detail that helped me to see and feel your experience. Thanks.
    The cold temperatures do take some getting used to. I hope you can find some positives – maybe a beautiful snow scene?

    • The new carpet of snow looked really beautiful through the car window yesterday and today, Karen. Thanks for the compliment about my writing. That means a lot. I didn’t write in my usual blogging style on purpose. It was a practice piece to hopefully dig into my memoir again next week. My book is written in the same style. But, I will have to cut about half of it. Being in my head and life for too long would drive any reader crazy! 🙂

  7. Glad you arrived safely and reunited with Mark. My thoughts are with you two as you navigate this new territory – unfortunately, not the kind of territory any of us looks forward to.

    • Thanks, Ingrid. This year didn’t have the start Mark and I desired – apart, together and soon apart again – but, that means it can only get better, with more quality time and freedom, hopefully by spring. 🙂

  8. Liesbet I got stressed just reading this… the nightmare, the dog that won’t take the meds when you are in a hurry, the early flight, the turbulent flght, the freezing weather, the caring for elderly parents. I could relate to all of it and the way you write made me feel like I was sitting on your shoulder watching it all firsthand! My thoughts go out to you both at this challenging time. Hope things go smoothly for you both.


    • Sorry for stressing you out, Peta. It was only a snippet of our lives, which are, in general, much more stressful than anyone would presume. I just never report on that. 🙂 And, sorry to hear that you can relate as well, because a lot of it isn’t much fun. You guys do travel a lot and I can only imagine it rarely goes smoothly. Luckily, things seem to have settled down a bit here, on the East Coast. Every period passes and we hope to come out happy and healthy at the other end.

  9. Now that was like reading a chapter from a great book that I want to keep on reading. Very well done. I hope that things with Mark’s mom continue to be on the upswing and that you will return from the chill to your ‘home’ in San Diego soon. Hug to Mark

    • Thanks for the compliment, Lisa. You are such a wonderful supporter of my writing. If you liked this little piece, there might be a chance you will like my memoir as well, whenever it is finished. 🙂 I’ll be back in San Diego soon, but Mark will probably be delayed. Tomorrow is his mom’s 82nd birthday and we hope we can somehow celebrate that a little bit, despite the fact that she can’t swallow and eat.

      • I just hate the thought of Mark’s mother suffering and hope that she is able to regain her abilities to swallow soon. It took about six months before we saw really progress with my father post-stroke. But he has since created and sold one business and successfully started another. Sending love, healing vibes, and birthday wishes ‘Mom’s’ way.

        • Thanks, Lisa! And, your father’s story is an inspirational and successful one. We hope Mark’s mom will recover “totally” as well, but it will take a while. We both stayed a week longer to keep visiting her every day at the rehab facility and to take care of his dad at home. Before we leave, we will have to move furniture, so she can sleep downstairs whenever she returns home.

  10. Hope all is going well for you, Mark and family. Not liking the photo of those dogs in the bed!!!

    • Haha. I remember you not liking dogs in bed, when we were pet sitting Lola in Northern California and she woke us up by jumping on the bed and licking our faces (the other part you dislike :-)) at 6am. We like to snuggle with dogs, but respect the owners’ habits and rules. In the San Diego house, the dogs are not allowed on the furniture in the living room, but they are very welcome on (and in) the bed!

  11. We would have been the one’s taking the $350 offer!

    • One day… As long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone. Maybe when we live full-time in our camper again. 🙂

  12. We have had to drop everything to take care of sick parents a couple of times. The first time, Scott had to fly to Norway and the second time he had to fly from Scotland back to the West Coast of the States. It’s always so stressful traveling and then when you add in the worry of how your family is doing, it’s even worse. I’m really glad your trip went so smoothly.

    • Wow, Ellen, you guys had to cover quite the distance to help out. Sorry to hear that. Yep, the worry is probably the worst part, since we can all deal with the inconvenience, time consumption and financial aspects one way or the other. We had some worry about possible disasters on the home front once we set out towards the Western Caribbean and then into the Pacific – from remote to more remote – and did have to fly back for emergencies twice (from Panama and Tahiti). For family and for ourselves. No fun. From that perspective, we were fortunate to only be located across the country!

  13. Victoria Marie Lees

    January 18, 2018 at 10:38

    Glad you made it cross-country safely, Liesbet. This is a wonderful account of what happened. We are in your mindset and experience what is happening through your thoughts and actions. I’m still praying for Mark’s parents.

    • Thanks, Victoria. I hope you will like my memoir as well, whenever we decide and get in a position to exchange pieces of it. 🙂 Hope all that is going well on your side – motivation, inspiration, determination!

  14. I love the way you have written this Liesbet, it brings the whole story to life. We are thinking of you at this time and send lots of love to you, Mark and all the family 💞 xxx

  15. Hate those early morning flights! You can’t get to sleep for worrying whether you’ll wake in time and when you do doze off, invariably wake at stupid o’clock. Glad you made it ok, Liesbet. 🙂 🙂 I’ve not come across a ticket sale like that. How very tempting! Hope things are stable with Mark’s Mum and that she’ll make a good recovery.

    • That is so true, Jo. I love the “stupid-o’clock” reference and I didn’t even think about that in regards to preferring afternoon flights, despite these situations having occurred multiple times. But, getting in late at a destination is not appealing either. I guess we need shorter flights. And/or remain in the same time zone. things seem to be stable at the moment. Sigh!

  16. Here’s the not-boring and adventurous life you lead. Transitions are the worst – right?

    Here’s to calmer days!

    • Thanks, Marian. Hopefully, next weekend! 🙂 Of course, that means another transition. And, two weeks after that, another one…

  17. Wonderfully written tale, Liesbet, and all too similar to a time in early 2016 when I was in the midst of moving from Chicago to Washington, DC, and in the throes of that craziness, my mom became extremely ill with a strange condition, and I had to drop everything in my own life, including my job, to fly to Georgia to be with her for weeks. It feels now like that was a black hole in time. Luckily, she recovered completely, and I wish the same for Mark’s mom now. Take care of yourselves, too – it is very stressful to be in these situations. (Sweet, sweet dogs!)

    • I”m glad to read your mom completely recovered, Lexie! When that is the outcome – and even when it isn’t, I suppose – all the sacrifices are worth it! It looks good for Mark’s mom in regards to her ability to walk, but we don’t know yet about her ability to swallow and eat real food again. Right now, she needs to get her strength back, after five weeks in the horizontal position, and receives speech and other therapies.

      You are right about the strain on ourselves and our relationship during times like these – it is extremely busy and we don’t have any time to ourselves. But, Mark and I have been in plenty of similar situations, unfortunately, and are a fantastic team when it comes to dealing with stress, loss and pain.

  18. Retirement Reflections

    January 18, 2018 at 19:50

    Amazing adventure…and so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  19. Let me just say it again….”You can judge a [person’s] character by the way [they] treat their mother!” That was a beautifully written post, and I empathize with almost all of the things you are going through! I’m sending positive thoughts to both of you. It’s stressful – be sure to take care of each other! ~ Lynn

    • Kind words and good advice, Lynn. My MIL showed the most heartfelt gratitude the other day. It teared me up, but all I could muster was: “Of course!” Despite the “sacrifices”, isn’t that what family and friends do, take care of each other and help in need? It seems obvious, but maybe there is more selfishness in this world than I realize.

  20. Hey, Liesbet! You’re my number one example of an adventurer! 🙂 This story was a great read. 🙂

  21. I hope your mother-in-law gets well soon in you and Mark to care for her. Yes, i’ve done quite lot of that and it is hard work and stressful at times, but oh so rewarding.

    • It is rewarding, Hilary, and gives a sense of “real” purpose right now. It is always a catch 22, though, because it is very hard to combine the full-time care giving with outstanding work stuff. One starts to feel overwhelmed after a while. We are happy to help and to mean all the difference to my in-laws, but we are ready to pick up our own lives again as well.

  22. I read every. single. word. with anxiety and expectation!! Liesbet, you are so lucky, organized and blessed to have your flight, departure and arrival go so smoothly. I don’t think I can write about my travel fiasco from SD airport to Hawaii. I’m anxious enough (for all the reasons you shared) let alone miss our flight due to the looooong lines the day we traveled. I will probably write about it for my guest post on Donna’s blog in a few weeks, but now the anxiety is still fresh. I hope your stay in Boston is stress-free and your flight home to sunny SD is effortless!

    • Writing about stressful and emotional events gets easier when time goes by and you can look at the events from a distance. I know exactly how you felt when missing that flight (and running, in vain, in airports) – awful! But, we always seem to get to our destination in the end, and survive. 🙂

      There aren’t enough hours in the day here in Boston to take care of the lives of four people, but we are managing: driving, visiting, following up, cooking, shopping, laundry, offering company, advice, financial help, running our own business, you name it! Looking forward to returning to San Diego coming Saturday. My guess is that it won’t be without the necessary amount of guilt, though!

  23. Wow, that was a great reading! I wish you all the best!

  24. Wow, what a saga Liesbet. You are a true travel trouper, so organized. I’m so impressed. What a weather shock that must have been for you. I know it well living on the east coast. I do hope your mother-in-law is into healing mode by now. 🙂

    • The weather has been quite a shock to our systems, Debby, but at least we know it is temporary. We usually plan a visit back east during the summer, but – as you so well know, unexpected things happen and make us change plans. Here’s to hoping both of our loved ones recover swiftly, so “normal” life can resume. 🙂

  25. What a beautifully written story of your experience, Liesbet. It is nice to have a little glimpse of your memoir-writing style.

    I think many of us experience anxiety about missing a flight. Although I have cut it close many times, I have only missed my flight once. It was about thirty years ago. I was at a conference in Portland Oregon with a friend/colleague. We set the alarm to get to the airport in plenty of time. Despite a long wait for a cab and heavy traffic, we arrived at the airport only about ten minutes later than we had hoped. But what we hadn’t realized was that it was the Sunday that the time changed to daylight savings time – spring forward. It was an hour later than what we believed. The plane was taxiing out to the runway just around the time that we checked in! But we ended up on a later flight at no extra cost, after having time for breakfast in the airport. So, disaster averted.


    • Thanks for the compliment, Jude! I’m sure when you look back to that day in Portland, you can now laugh about it, but at the moment, it must have been quite the scare. Reading your experience, I could just imagine your heart skipping a beat when that time change discovery happened. So nice that you didn’t have to pay a change fee and ended up at your destination not too much later. And, I can totally relate to delayed cabs or heavy traffic on the way to the airport. It was one of the reasons why I walked to the airport a couple of weeks ago. 🙂

  26. This was an interesting read and I must say that I was waiting for the ‘something’ that was going to go wrong and spoil your day, Liesbet. Sometimes, the surprises that life has in store for us can make us think if that really did just happen. I hope that Mark’s mother is making good progress.

    • She is, Hugh. Thank you for the wishes. We seem to forget often that she is 82, after all. Because of her demeanor and health, that reality is sometimes missed. I know exactly what you mean about those “surprises”, where you just can’t believe what just happened, whether this unsuspected discovery leads to heartbreak, deep loss or a grueling health issue.

  27. Trying to sleep the night before an early morning flight is horrible, isn’t it? I’ve gotten in the habit of just staying up and sleeping on the plane, since I’ll keep having those same “slept-in” nightmares you described.

    Once my Grannie was in the hospital and it seemed like she might die. I dropped everything to be with her. Strangely, my parents tried to talk me out of it, and we had a bit of a scrap over that. I was in my early thirties and didn’t like being told what to do, as if I were a child. Thankfully, she was fine then, but I believe she died about a year later. That visit was the last time I saw her, and I’ve never regretted taking the time.

    Work and money are important, but on their death bed, no one ever says they wish they’d worked longer hours or made more money. It’s all about the people, about the love. <3

    • Staying up for an early flight seems like a great solution! If you can sleep on planes. Do you take a comfy pillow with you when flying? I can’t sleep easily on planes and, if I do fall asleep, I feel awful afterwards. I think the perfect plan would be to take late morning or early afternoon flights instead. 🙂

      It is all about our connections and the love. I couldn’t agree more. Each time I was in Belgium, I tried to visit my oma – my dear grandma – as often as possible, and I’m happy I did. When she was on her death bed last spring, I wanted to fly back as well, but my parents warned me against it, since in my memories, she still looked “decent”. I’m glad I did not return for her last days, despite being disappointed that nobody was with her the moment she passed away. “She wouldn’t have known differently,” my mom said, but I’m not sure about that. The next issue was me wanting to go back for her funeral. My plane ticket was booked and my bag packed… After talking things through with my parents and realizing my oma would not want me to spend this amount of money on something she wasn’t around for anymore anyway, I remained in the US and celebrated her life differently. These are all tough decisions!

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