So, what do you do all day?

Pat Callahan taking a photo workshop in North Wales

A North Wales Photo Shoot

I stumbled upon this linguistic quagmire during my conversation class when a man questioned the meaning of this pervasive Americanism. In order to define the phrase, I described a typical Saturday morning in my days of yore life: dashing to the post office to buy stamps; stopping by the library to return books; swinging into Walmart to collect the supplies for the dreaded third grade project – a diorama of the Colosseum; running into a sports store to purchase a new pair of soccer shin guards. All my verbs evoked helter skelter motion. As I relived my American Saturday, the smiles staring back at me became more and more confused. Then it dawned on me. Errands are an attribute of my discretionary spendthrift life. Hungarians do not run errands enough to warrant a dedicated phrase.

Inevitably, someone asks us; “What exactly do you do all day?” Most often, friends are genuinely curious to understand our lives. Occasionally, the inquisitor is making an obvious judgement of the silly or thoughtless or mid-life crisis nature of our current status. As a stay at home parent, Pat has tackled this question most of his adult life. Stay at home mothers are thanked for their critical and selfless service. Stay at home fathers are questioned about their sanity, work ethic and education level. We are used to having our life choices incredulously dissected.

As I described my American Saturday morning rituals to my conversation class, I realized our life has changed in several ways – subtracting content as much, or more so, than adding. Perhaps the easiest way to tackle this question is by looking at the stuff which no longer stuffs our days:

  • Running errands
  • Shopping – except for food
  • Repairing our things, especially related to cars and houses
  • Working on the yard
  • Dusting knickknacks
  • Looking for lost items (I spent half my adult life on this one)

We rip through our chores now, cleaning the apartment thoroughly in an hour. And despite our miniature clothes washer, with no matching dryer, laundry is a snap. So with all those time burners tossed aside, what do we do?

My Monday through Friday routine is a page from the 90s. I work in an office again after years of working from home. Morning showers, thoughtfully dressing, stopping by a coffee shop (for nearly an hour), commuting by train are all back in my life. I prefer this routine and realize how isolating my work at home career had become. During my train commute, I write a draft of this blog. During each subsequent commute, I edit it.

Pat spends his days wandering the city, riding trams to parts of Budapest still unexplored, shooting photographs. Some days he studies a photographic technique online. He approaches photography, and his blog, the way I do mine; as a job. His skills have blossomed during our time here to the point where his work was exhibited in the Central European House of Photography. Last year, he attended a Rick Sammon photo workshop in Wales, and I tagged along. This October we will both attend the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) convention in Athens. In November, he will participate in a photo workshop in Dubrovnik, Croatia and once again, I will join him. As homage to his penchant for volunteerism, he joined a non-profit board in Bratislava, returning at least once a month as part of that commitment. He is busy – yet in a more manageable way and focused only on those activities he loves.

On the weekends, we force ourselves to explore; thermal baths, ruin pubs, nearby towns, lesser known corners of Budapest and Hungary, music performances. Sometimes I’ll write about our adventures. Other times, we agree to leave our cameras and note pads at home and enjoy the outing, a deliberate decision to take the night off and behave as tourists, a married couple visiting Budapest.

When we first moved, I spent a lot of time contemplating what our lives had become. I don’t do that anymore. This is our life. Some days are good, bad, frustrating, challenging, crazy. Basically, the same emotions we experienced back home, but more intense now, more extreme. The bad days are awful, the good ones blissful. Life is more simple and focused. I don’t miss my Saturday mornings errands. We are learning new skills and actively, purposefully reinventing ourselves. And on almost every day, that feels quite good.

Categories: Ruminations

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