5 things to know about driving on the left in New Zealand and Australia

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Driving on the left? Terrifying—and totally worth it for views like this from McKinnon Pass on the Milford Track in New Zealand.

So, we’re back. After four weeks of honeymooning around New Zealand and Australia, Tovin and I have returned to the land of drip coffee and fog. I won’t claim we were ready to leave, but it is good to be home.

Given that we had four weeks (more on that in a future post) and didn’t fancy becoming alcoholics with skin cancer, we decided to forgo the stereotypical all-inclusive resort honeymoon in favor of a more active exploration. We biked (to a winery), hiked (the gobsmacking Milford Track in New Zealand), rode (horses in the damn ocean!), paddled (kayaks alongside baby seals) and dove (the just-as-great-as-you’ve-imagined Barrier Reef).

But by far the most nerve-wracking, risky, challenging endeavor we took on during the entire trip was this: driving on the left.

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How an 8-year-old experiences travel abroad

Failed to meet a princess, but I did score a pic with this handsome fellow.

Failed to meet a princess, but I did score a pic with this handsome fellow.

When I was 8 years old, I desperately wanted to go to Disney World.

My classmates with grandparents in Florida had been, and I was pretty sure it was where they kept all the princesses. My grandparents lived in Chicago, and my folks were the kind of people who prided themselves on weathering Boston winters and not running off somewhere beachy like the rest of those heat-seeking wimps. Amusement parks were not their idea of amusing, so when I calmly suggested Disney for our summer vacation, they deftly announced they’d leave the decision to me.

“We can go to Disney World,” my parents said, “or we can go to England, where there are real princesses, and real castles, and real crowns.”

I imagined myself bumping into a real, actual princess just hanging around an open-to-the-public castle popular with American tourists. We’d instantly become besties. She’d probably even give me a crown of some sort of scepter to take home as a souvenir.

“England?” I answered.

I was reminded of that trip to London and Scotland recently when my parents sent me the diary I kept during our vacation. It was my first travel journal, scrawled on a pad of lined paper, with lots of misspellings and astute observations such as, “In England the License plates are diffrent along with the accents,” and “Covent Gardens was next. It is NOT a garden.”

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Most of the entries are really just an accounting of what I ate during the day, (which, to be fair, is still how I recount my days), but in between the many meals of chicken and chips, were glimpses of a kid feeling the pull of travel for the first time. From the crown jewels and tomb rubbings to escaped cows and a really deep well, virtually everything I encountered was an eye-widening experience. Meeting a dog named Merlin was worthy of note. Taking a train was a big deal. Even getting a pillow and blanket on the airplane earned some enthusiastic punctuation. (In fact, I loved the hair wrap I got in London so much that I left it in for an entire year—Mom, how did you allow this?—until the string finally gave up the following summer at camp, and I was left with one long, crusty dread.)

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I remember there being stressful moments during that trip, but not a single one is mentioned in the journal. Maybe I left them out on purpose. Maybe they just seemed less important than the thrilling newness of it all.

I never did make it to Disney World. While it’s probably a perfectly lovely place, I’m guessing they don’t have hidden escape stairs for priests, or potbellied pigs who like a good scratch, or the Aberdeen soccer team, practicing where a girl and her dad can just stand and watch for a while.

Good thing my parents left that decision to me. I think I made the right choice.

I resolve: Four things I maybe probably won’t do in 2015

Red cabbage salad with fennel, orange and pepitas (a new recipe for 2014, not from one of my cookbooks).

Red cabbage salad with fennel, orange and pepitas (a new recipe for 2014, not from one of my cookbooks).

New Year’s resolutions don’t work. You know this. I know this. It is fact.

Take my 2014 resolution—to listen to, and delete, my voicemails. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there are currently four unplayed voicemails on my iPhone, but that’s because I ditched my old phone (and its 90ish unplayed messages) a couple of weeks ago.

Or take my 2013 resolution—to floss. I think I’ve made that one four or five times now. Never works. I’m an avid brusher, but as my dentist will tell you, I just don’t floss.

New Year’s resolutions don’t work because we resolve to do things we don’t really want to do. Sure, they’re often things we should do, things that the imaginary miniature mother living on our shoulders would nag us to do (in between scolding us to put on a sweater and asking if we want some tea). But unless you actually want to complete your New Year’s resolutions they won’t stick. Just ask the packet of floss in my bathroom drawer.

So, this year I’m going to try making promises I want to keep. Now, let’s see how I do in 2015.

I resolve …

• … to train for and run my first marathon. I’ve been running for a few years now, half-marathons, relays, trails. I even completed a goal to run 1,000 miles in 2014. And two weeks ago, I did my longest run ever, a 16-miler on McCullough Hills Trail that felt shockingly good, despite the 1,500-plus feet of elevation gain. So it feels like this is the year to step up to the next level. Plus, I’m unemployed, so I should have plenty of time to train.

• … to read more books. I don’t read enough books, and I’m self-conscious about it. I read on vacation, but at home picking up a book just isn’t part of my routine. I read the newspaper, I read magazines, I read way too much stupid crap online, but in 2015 I’m going to read more books—starting with the stack that’s been sitting at the bottom of my bed for months.

• … to cook new recipes. The thing about having a cookbook collection is that people expect you to, like, cook from them, and not just, like, find all your recipes on Epicurious and make the same things over and over. This can be a problem for me. But this is the year I actually bring my cookbooks into the kitchen, which is probably where they belong, right?

• … to have more weekend adventures. This falls firmly into the category of things-I-really-want-to-do-but-am-too-lazy-to-plan. So this will serve as my little self pep talk: Self, don’t be a lazy bum this year. Plan hiking trips and camping weekends. Scout out awesome cabins and cool places to kayak, and then find people who would also like to have fun and not just sit on the couch and go do these amazing, memorable things. Got it? Okay. Ready? Break!

There it is, folks. Four resolutions for 2015, which I’ll start, ya know, tomorrow.

Market moments in Vietnam

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I like this photo perhaps a little more than I should.

To me, that chicken is more than today’s lunch, destined for a last swim in some rich, bubbling broth. Its outstretched feet seem to punctuate the whole scene, shouting, “Hey! Wait! A little help here?!”

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A five-second photo tour of spring

I suppose good bloggers publish so many photos and posts that they have no need for these kind of wrap-ups. I am not a good blogger. All that writing and editing for a living makes it sorta hard to hit the blog when I get home.

Excuses, excuses, right?

Anyway, it’s been a wonderful spring, complete with two (!) trips home to Boston, two great races, lots of good food and some quality (and sweaty) exploration. With summer breathing down my neck, here’s a selection of photos that capture a bit of the last few months.

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Ah La Jolla. Yes, it’s high-priced and a bit precious, but this doesn’t suck. Palms trees, sunset over the Pacific, moisture in the air and sunny days that don’t feel like they’re melting your skin. This photo was taken in early March, the night before I ran the San Diego Half Marathon with my friend Katie.

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Shall we take the stairs?

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I took this photo in a small village along the so-called Ruta Panoramica in central Dominican Republic last summer. We had just spent a night in a wonderful jungle ecolodge called Tubagua, and on the way back to Santo Domingo we stopped in the town of Pedro Garcia to meet with a local Peace Corp volunteer, who was helping farmers convert their land back to coffee after a failed, government-sponsored experiment in raising cattle. Stanley, the Peace Corp kid, was so passionate about his project I couldn’t help but feel inspired, and everywhere we walked with him we were greeted by neighbors inviting him to dinner, joined by teenagers who wanted to practice their English and followed by family dogs that seemed determined to adopt Stanley. Eventually, we came to these stairs, leading up to a ridge where we had a clear, lovely view of the valley below. The photos from the top where nice, of course. But I prefer this one from the bottom of the stairs—where it’s all possibility and anything might be waiting if you just start the climb.

That damn face

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This is the look that Samba gives me when my suitcase comes out. As the washing machine hums and and the packing begins, Samba’s anxiety manifests in quiet whines and pleading stares.

She doesn’t know that while I’m gone she’ll be staying with her best friend, Hank, and will return from the weekend exhausted from the continuous tumble of big-dog wrestling, complete with leg sweeps, pins and other Octagon-worthy moves. She only knows that my suitcase means I’m leaving, and that she’ll miss me while I’m gone.