Duff and Me

I freely admit that I have lost my perspective on life right now.
I so well remember thirteen years ago when I was a graduate student and a friend and I purchased a ticket to Rome on a whim. I was turning 30, the round trip fare was $350, and I spent about $800 for a ten day trip. It was an incredibly decadent thing to do because I was totally broke. I put the whole thing on a credit card and spent about two years paying it off (probably closer to three, actually). I still have some of the gorgeous Deruta dishes and ceramics I purchased in Sienna.

Yea. Broke as I was, I shopped.

Because my feeling then, as now, was that you’ve got to carpe el diem. I spent a lot of time back then working my stomach into knots over my finances and living in terror of all the debt I was accumulating, but I still wanted to do some special things, take advantage of my youth and freedom, and enjoy. I don’t regret it a bit (I do wish my photos from that Italy trip were of better quality, though).

When I started in ministry I was always shocked and paralyzed when a financial stresser appeared in my life — something like, say, taxes. Or a car repair. Or just a regular monthly bill I had forgotten about. I was underpaid and trying to keep my head above water and I remember how I gnawed at my nails over my checkbook every month. I would hear of colleagues going on sabbatical and traveling through India or taking cruises through the fjords of Norway and I would think, “Ha ha ha. That will NEVER be me. I will NEVER have enough money to take one of those cool tours to the Holy Land or to India or Norway. I’m going to be dead broke for the next twenty years.”

Well, the years passed and life got better. My paychecks got bigger, writing a rent check every month became a thing of the past (and not owning a house feels less scary now than it did a year or so ago!), and most importantly, I learned how to budget, how to keep an eagle eye on my finances (for instance, I balance my checkbook every DAY now, not every month), and I learned how to save. I know what my don’t-want-to-live-without-’em luxury items are, and I know about rice and beans. People don’t notice this, but I’m good at hunkering down for a few weeks at a time and staying really quiet and non-spendy. I do $20 challenge weeks where I give myself twenty single dollar bills on Saturday and if I can make it through to the next Saturday without having charged anything and without having spent all the bills, I win. I get to move on to the $10 dollar challenge week. If I win THAT, and especially without feeling deprived, I WIN BIG. There’s no prize, just a big air guitar concert in the dining room.

For the past three years I have been ferociously saving for sabbatical (it was four, but Ermengarde’s upper respiratory crisis wiped out a few thousand dollars of savings) and now it is my turn to take that “cool trip” to the Holy Land of the Bible and the cradle of European Unitarianism. I honestly would not have believed just ten years ago that this would be me.

But right now I am so overwhelmed by the details of preparing for five weeks away, I can’t savor the moment. I’m experiencing the same pre-trip fear and sadness that I did right before I left for Texas and Nicaragua, but this time with more fear of the unknown mixed in: will I hate the structure of being on a tour? What if my roommate snores or doesn’t have a sense of humor? What if it’s really hot, or really cold and rainy? There’s very little wi-fi access so I won’t be able to blog and upload photos along the way, which bums me out. What if someone steals my camera and I lose all my visual memories? What if my IBS flares up and I have to use the bathroom ALL the time!? What if I hate Greek food? What if the ruins bore me or I’m too shallow to get anything out of the tour and want to go shopping? What if I feel like I wasted my money signing onto these tours?

(Isn’t this charming, how the mind works?)

What if I just want to get Ermengarde from my friend Peter’s, because I miss her so much, and what if I just want to stay home and watch movies and read books with Max and Erm? What if I want to spend the last month of my sabbatical curled up in bed and eating Chinese take-out every night?

I can’t believe my sabbatical is coming to an end after this trip. I’m happy to go back to work, I’m just amazed at how fast it all flew by and how few gourmet meals I learned to cook and how many chapters of my dissertation I didn’t write and how many home improvement projects and how many scrapbooking projects I didn’t do. I mean, I did some (except for the gourmet meals part). I also watched some TV almost every day I was home, which is a totally alien concept for me in regular time.

So this is where I’m at right now and I’m not surprised. I know the territory and I even think it’s kind of funny. In 48 hours, I’m going to be in ISTANBUL. I just got the shivers writing that. I’m going to go to ATHENS. I’m going to visit the village where my grandfather was born. I’m going to preach in TRANSYLVANIA. It’s so incomprehensible. I saved and I planned and I dreamed and I visualized it and my congregation approved and supported me in all of those dreams and it’s all happening.

I’ve been packing this new Eddie Bauer super-duper magical duffle bag that has a nifty under-compartment where I’ve packed gifts for my partner church minister and my shoes and unders. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting really good at this or maybe this duffle bag is seriously magical because no matter how much I pack, there’s still tons of room left and the bag never seems to get that heavy.


We’re hitting the road, Duff and Me, on Saturday afternoon. See you when I see you, amigos.

14 Replies to “Duff and Me”

  1. I went to Hungary & Transylvania with the youth group last summer. I had many of these fears. I obsessed over what to pack, because it was the one thing i felt like I could control. I had a great time. The IBS didn’t act up, I learned to eat most of what appeared and be ok with it. Life was good. Your trip will be too. Enjoy.

    My stupid mistake was not bringing the camera battery charger or the ipod. Bring them. Have a great time.

  2. Oh dear, I just want to bring you soup and a warm cozy blanket and tell you that it will all be wonderful, whatever it is.

    It’s true. And of course you really do know it after all.

    Blessings on a wonderful trip!

  3. I totally get this – especially the desire to hunker down for the last few weeks of sabbatical and either a) enjoy in total comfort or b) produce, produce, produce – in my case, collages, writing, a kick-a** course on the gospels for religious liberals.

    I had a huge case of Don’t-Feel-Like-Its – just as I do before many big undertakings, including most sermons, and I love preaching. This could be your Moses instinct kicking in – “Nope, not me, Lord. I can’t, I don’t want to.” Resistance is part of any great calling.

    Can’t wait to hear when you get back.

  4. Travel safely, sweet potato, travel well! Leaving is usually much harder than being gone . . .

  5. Looking forward to seeing Turkey and Romania, etc thru the eyes and words of peacebang. Have fun!

  6. What I love reading here is that you are you – and you are also so much like us or me… You will have memorable trip – some good things will happen and some not good things – such as life. But ALL of it will be the fabric that your life is made of. And, Girl, I can’t wait to read all about it.

  7. Love ya, PB! Just want to say to you (and please accept it in the spirit it is given) — you have said you are a Jesus-believing UU. Are you a believer in Satan/evil as well? Because what I read in your angst is Evil wishing to steal your joy and your bliss. In the words of the NT — get thee behind me, Satan! Call it out for what it is, and call out Truth and Joy and Love for what it is well. You have dreamed and prepared as no other. There are no what-ifs. What comes will come. And you (knowing you as I do only from your blog) will, I am sure, find great joy and excitement and pleasure in whatever does come.

    Oh, and one other piece of practical advice — enjoy the local foods, but avoid the preserved meats/cheeses that may trigger a migraine.

  8. I just spent 4 weeks travelling Europe, and as a young 20-something, the first part of the post made me feel better about spending so much money there.

  9. @ Jacqueline: Love this comment, because a major reason I keep blogging is so that we’ll all feel less alone in our neuroses! @Lynette, GOOD POINTS!! *mwah!* to everyone!

  10. Hey PB!
    Now that you’re back, I wonder how your “Eddie Bauer super-duper magical duffle bag” performed on your trip? I’m going to India in 2011 and have been warned against making myself miserable with too much luggage. Would you still recommend this?

    [OMG, I’m so glad you asked! Because although it was a super-great bag in many ways, it was too heavy to get on and off old European trains. I doubt that Indian trains are much better. I would recommend something lighter that can be carried on the back — even a good pack with a frame. And guess what, the handle broke off of Duff the day I got home. It snapped off in the driveway. I’m ticked off but then again, I dragged that thing around for five weeks. I think I’ll just use it for linen storage at home since I don’t have the receipt. – PB]

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