The past 3 weeks took me, as a tourist of sorts, back to the motherland. It was very interesting to view the country that was the only place I've lived (aside from a short stop in New Zealand 15 years ago) as a relative outsider, camera in hand and newly-formed Euro-goggles on eyes and brain. More on this in subsequent posts.

First off, what does it mean to go back home? It's a mixed bag, that's for sure. Kind of a cocktail of happiness, comfort, nostalgia and melancholy.

It's the place of so many personal triumphs and failures, which come back to you in equal measure depending on which street you turn down on a given day. Places and ghosts that were happily remembered or happily forgotten, until now. Each painful tweak is also offset by a great reunion with a close friend.

And things are different, no matter how much they appear to be unchanged. It hits you when parents are a little more wobbly, a little slower to move around. Nieces and nephews are way taller, a little less innocent, and you hope you haven't missed too much already.

Being there for only a few days or weeks made me appreciate everything more intensely.

I didn't realize two years ago that I'd be saying goodbye to a very good friend forever. He got very sick a year ago, and passed away in March. When I last saw Ric - one of the nicest guys ever and a tremendous dad and husband - we were on the golf course and he was perfectly fine.

To not see him ever again is unfair and still somewhat unbelievable. All the cliches are true - it's part of life, life is cruel, you never know... blah blah blah. It's simply not what you bargain for when you leave town, whether it's for a day or a couple of years.

Ric's passing helped in only one respect - I made sure that every goodbye this time around was fully absorbed and appreciated.