Tips for surviving the annual stress test called 'home leave'

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Tips for surviving the annual stress test called 'home leave'

Whew, I'm just back from vacation and I'm exhausted. Aren't you supposed to relax on vacation? We hustled the whole way.

In a two-week, five-state, cross-country odyssey we saw a mother, a daughter, two godchildren, four aunts, two uncles and eight cousins with five of their spouses and four of their offspring. Not to mention doctors, dentists, the renters in our house, the broker who watches our finances deteriorate, and even a few friends. A great time, but strenuous work.

And I had an unshakable cold the whole way.

We live abroad, but we are not disconnected from home. That's why we put ourselves through home leave every summer. The job -- it's hardly a holiday -- requires planning comparable to MacArthur's Incheon landing. This summer was particularly complicated, because in addition to the usual home-leave chores in Baltimore, we had to make time for the Arkansas relatives -- our wonderful aunts aren't getting any younger. Also, we miss our daughter, who has fetched up in Seattle. We have an aunt and cousins there, too.

Weeks beforehand, by e-mail and telephone, we put together an itinerary, arranged places to stay and rental cars for the side trips to Oregon and Virginia. Because of the time differences, it is only practicable to call Seattle in the morning, and Baltimore in the late evening. There is no practicable time to call Arkansas from Seoul.

It would all work, we figured, if the doctors and dentists would accept take-it-or-leave-it dates to give us appointments. But it turns out that doctors take summer vacations, too, so we had to work out backup plans for many of the necessary check-ups.

Then there was the task of weeding our list of friends. We wanted to see lots of people, but time simply wouldn't permit. If the Smiths heard that we had looked up the Joneses, feelings would be hurt. So both Smiths and Joneses had to be skipped. Maybe next year.

There is more to preparation than just logistics. I should have been better prepared, for instance, to talk to the broker. Things have changed with our investment account since last year's home leave. Keeping in mind that we will be retiring in a few years, how to respond to the changes? The broker's plan is to stay in the market -- of course; he is a broker, after all. But I've been an ocean away from my finances for the past year. I hadn't worked out intelligent questions to ask. Back in Korea now, I have plenty of questions. Fortunately, there is e-mail and the telephone; but I've lost my chance for a face-to-face discussion until next year.

My wife had an uneasy moment. What if one of these routine annual medical check-ups revealed anything requiring treatment? She would have to stay in the States while I returned to work in Korea. Next year, she says, maybe she will get her pap smear and mammogram in Seoul.

The tenants are taking reasonably good care of the house, but the landscaping is returning to nature. You really can't expect tenants to do much pruning and bushwhacking. It's enough that they agreed to take over the dog, who has fattened under their indulgent care.

Also flourishing are the aunts, and among the cousins there's a new baby. We loved the salmon in Seattle, the catfish in Arkansas and the crabcakes in Baltimore. The trip was a good break; we returned to Seoul eager to get back to work. Perhaps home leave can be enjoyed, after all.

"At Home Abroad . . . in Korea" is a monthly feature. We invite readers to share their experiences or suggest topics for articles. Please respond to

by Hal Piper

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