January 22, 2013

Fake Real Life

I woke up in a panic on our first morning in The United States. I didn’t know where I was. Steve had this happen to him many times over the course of our trip, but never me. We had stayed in 147 unfamiliar places and moved on average every 2 nights, but all it took was coming home to finally get confused about where I was.
This was the beginning of our month-long, pre-work phase we called “fake real life”.
There were some strange things going on. I noticed that whenever there were two things making sounds at the same time (TV and a person talking) I seriously couldn’t comprehend either one of them. My mouth has literally started watering whenever I look at a menu. We keep thinking that we have forgotten our bag whenever we leave a restaurant. And for several weeks I was getting strange dizzy fits when I went into big stores. I think I wasn’t used to the florescent lighting.
One of my fears came true. My old cell phone number was given away. I’ve had several family and friends tell me that they called it and heard mariachi music. Apologies to everyone for being hard to get ahold of. Apologies to the poor Mexican man who has to keep telling people that this is no longer Katie’s numero.
Here is what I have learned from watching TV for the first time in a year: the Kardashians are still using the same tired storylines, the Bachelor is on its 25th season (who is still watching this?), and what the f*** is Android Jellybean?
After wearing a $6 wedding band from overstock.com for the last year, I thought my diamond-studded wedding and engagement rings would be too much...but I catch myself smiling at them all the time. On the other hand I thought I would love to come home to a humongous wardrobe, but I actually hated it. I didn't want to wear any of my old clothes. They were all too stuffy and uncomfortable. If you see me out, chances are that I'll still be wearing my RTW “uniform”.

We were used to walking straight out into traffic in Southeast Asia, so one day in Ohio we forgot to look before we crossed the road. Some guy (who was stopped at a red light) flipped out on us, and we just could not understand why people in America get so bent out of shape. The road situation in Vietnam is insane and we never once saw the slightest bit of road rage. Americans need to take a massive deep breath and calm down.
“Fake real life” can most truly be understood in the context of responsibilities. At first there were little chores that we borderline relished. We threw absolutely everything in the laundry machine that wasn’t metal. We opened a year’s worth of mail. We stepped on the scales.

But then the holidays were over and we thought we should start tackling some of our to-dos. It was confusing. We didn’t have jobs yet, but we still felt like we needed to get things done. Should we be productive or spend our last weeks of freedom doing absolutely nothing?
During our first month back we hugely struggled with simple real life problems. Even things like a broken windshield, recouping frequent flier miles, or submitting for insurance claims were sometimes just too much to handle. It seems that everything in the U.S. is always so complicated and bureaucratic. We can never make it easy on ourselves. Like never before, we hate how much valuable time and wasted energy these meaningless tasks take up.
It surprisingly didn’t feel that unusual not to be out seeing new things every day. I think if we had come home after 3 or 6 months of traveling, we would have had antsy feet. But after almost 11 months on the road, nesting inside a house was exactly what we wanted. The simple joys of brushing our teeth with sink water and falling asleep on the couch were wonderful.
While we were in Ohio I took a trip to my hometown and visited my elementary school, high school, and old friends...who picked up right where we had left off.  As it turns out, my childhood home would be sold only two weeks later. As I sat in my family's driveway for the last time, all of the memories flooded in with the tears. This was where I learned to ride my first bike, where we played family games of H-O-R-S-E, and where my brother once mowed our lawn in a plaid pattern so that it could look like Wrigley Field. I've now grown up and seen how big the world is, and yet I realized that everything that made me what I am today happened on that tiny patch of land.
This was the longest amount of time I’ve spent in Ohio since my sophomore year in college. The highlight was definitely getting to spend so much time with my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. We gave everyone gifts from around the world, we banged pots and pans on New Year's Eve, and we played more games of Settlers of Catan than I can count. We sledded, we ice skated, we went to swim lessons and gymnastics lessons. We hosted a sleepover for the kids, complete with a fort and scavenger hunt.

We made up for the family time we missed out on this past year. We were even successful in getting almost the entire Bremer clan together for the first time in 3 years.

One day I was feeling a little RTW wistfulness so I decided to go museuming. I hit up two of Columbus, Ohio’s options: the Kappa Kappa Gamma and Jack Nicklaus museums. Steve and I also cooked some of our favorite Asian dishes for my parents and their friends. We only used 1/5 the amount of peppers that the recipe called for and we were still sweating.

I sorted through my old childhood toys. The little plastic glowworms that I used to love took on new meaning (and new value) now that I’ve been to New Zealand. I also said goodbye to most of my childhood trophies as I reminisced about how I used to dominate Junior Golf.

The running joke in Ohio was how, in retirement, my parents can find any excuse to go to the grocery store every day. This culminated in us driving 20-minutes each way to attend a French wine tasting at the Giant Eagle grocery store…on a Friday night. We were given our plastic cups and started the wine tasting in the cheese department before progressing past the frozen food aisles to the next station in the meals-to-go area. If this sounds like an embarrassing way to spend your Friday night, trust me, I was right there with you. But it turned out to be really fun, and the people of Ohio know a good time when they see it. There were easily hundreds of people there, and they were even standing out in the coldwaiting to get in just so that they could wrap themselves in a long line past the ketchup and peanut butter. My only regret is that I didn't bring my camera or set up my incense sticks outside. Apparently date night at the grocery store is the new thing.
After a couple of fun weeks in Ohio, Steve headed back to Colorado and I joined him a week later. Finally we were both HOME!
We temporarily moved in with Steve’s parents in Monument, Colorado until Steve finds a job and we know where to move long-term. Our first few days were adventurous and went something like this:
Day 1: Unpacked and felt overwhelmed by all of the crap (AKA material possessions) that we used to think were important. Mind you this was only 3 suitcases worth of stuff. The rest of our belongings are still waiting for us in a storage unit in San Diego. We decided that not having all of our stuff right when we got home was a blessing in disguise. We will save the bigger freak-out for a later date.
Day 2: My father-in-law – who was 5 months away from retiring – was laid off and given a 5 month severance package. Woo hoo! Under one roof we now have two work-from-home women, one retiree, one unemployed, a 110-pound dog, and a curious kitty cat.

Day 3: My cousin, Emily, went into labor 3 weeks early. We made a trip up to Boulder to celebrate with them and hold the smallest baby we’ve personally ever seen.
A little bit about our new community...
We’re a 10-minute drive to the Air Force Academy, 20 minutes to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and 30 minutes to the Olympic Training Center. There are over 100 different evangelical Christian organizations in town, and the damage from this summer’s forest fires is plain to see – the entire ridge looming over Garden of the Gods is burned.
We are sleeping in the same bedroom that Steve grew up in, and it’s the first time in my life I can say I live on a dirt road.
We’ve been reunited with so many dear friends of ours from Colorado and it feels incredible. One night we stayed at a friend’s house in the mountains overlooking Boulder. We could see the city lights twinkling as we went to sleep. The bed was unfamiliar and so were the pillows. Our stuff was strung out all over the floor. It felt like we were back to normal! We even found my cousin’s old house where Steve and I first met 8.5 years ago.
We have slipped so quickly back into normal life that it almost worries me. Sometimes we’ll be in the exact same place doing the exact same thing as two years ago, and it gives me the fleeting feeling that the last year never happened. I’m sure it ties into my other fear that I’m going to forget all of my memories. I just really do not want it all to have been for nothing. This is the biggest piece of culture shock that I'm still trying to work through.
Our first month in Ohio and Colorado allowed us to gradually transition from traveling nomads to responsible adults destined to enter back into the workforce. Some days were good, some days were bad, but I’m proud to report that we’re doing pretty darn well.


  1. Steve & Katie!
    It was so fun reading about all of your adventures last year. I will say I was a bit jealous and had to take a break from reading as the envy was just too much. Glad to hear you're settling back into "real life."

    Miss you guys in San Diego but excited for your new chapter in Colorado!

    Kate DeBord

    PS keep blogging you have a great voice!

  2. I found your blog through nomadicmatt :]

    I'm already dreading the day we have to end our trip but reading this gives me hope that things won't be all terrible when we return.