Once, a dozen years ago, we spent a miserable weekend in the Cotswolds.

It was our first trip to the UK, and we had been visiting Matt’s brother in Sussex. Because I love nothing more than the words “cottage” and “garden,” preferably used in the same sentence, and because I have a weakness for mysteries set in the English countryside, the Cotswolds were on my bucket list. We would wander from village to village on the public footpaths. We would see gardens and yellow stone cottages and drink tea in pubs. I might even be able to help solve a mystery.

That was the dream. This was the reality:

It rained. Torrentially. The whole time. And, as it was a May bank holiday weekend, there were no public transportation options available. Instead of meandering on foot from one charming village to another, we spent two days huddled up in our room before ditching the Cotswolds and taking a train back to London. I read three mysteries.

It took over a decade to make it back to the Cotswolds, this time trading gardens for villages decked out for the holidays. There were Christmas trees peeking out from the windows of the old stone cottages, and garlands of greenery and holly draped over the doorways and windows. There were candles in the windows and wreaths with pinecones and red berries on all the doors. There were fires lit in the pub fireplaces when we stopped our wandering long enough to drink a restoring pot of tea (This I learned from all that reading: English folk are always stopping for a restoring drink.). If we lived here, Matt would direct choirs in the village church and teach music at the local school. I’d give piano lessons and be a member of the garden club and needlepoint kneelers for the vestry. We’d have a big dog that we’d take on walks along the footpaths. We’d drive a Land Rover and wear Wellies. During the twelve days of Christmas, we’d spend the evenings caroling on the high street and then afterwards throw parties back at our little cottage with mulled wine and cookies.

Matt commented that this sounded much like our current life minus the dog and the Wellies. It certainly does seem that I have merely transferred our practices and routines to a new setting.

The idea of practice is different when one is traveling. There are certainly traveling practices. Or as I have come to call them the Four Rules of Traveling (1. If there is a bathroom, use it. 2. If there is a vegetable, eat it. 3. If you can charge your phone, do so. 4. If there is a way to do laundry, take advantage.). Back at home, my concept of practice is based on the idea of familiarity and routine. I go to yoga classes and swim laps several mornings before dawn at the pool. I write and garden; needlepoint and read. I spend hours on the meditation cushion and the piano bench. I teach the skills of becoming a musician; I teach the routines of daily piano practice as a spiritual discipline. Always I am scribbling notes to myself, the categories of my work and patterns forever blurring: Tomorrow listen to the Mozart. What about quinoa in vegetarian chili? Buy lemons and pomegranates and colored pencils. Split the ferns. Lunch with Simone next Tuesday…

After three perfect days living the dream in the Cotswolds, we locked the door on our flat in the manor house and took a train to Reading, where we spent New Year’s Eve with friends and then two days in London going to museums and shows and eating in Chinatown and walking, walking, walking (31,982 steps, 14.1 miles). Friday we flew with friends to Vienna for the weekend. We landed in a cold, dark fog with just enough visibility to see the lights on the Christmas trees in the old apartments along the Danube.

I may never have that life in the Cotswolds, complete with a dog and Wellies and the yellow stone cottage, but I am very taken with the idea of adding dried fruits to my Christmas wreath next year, much like I saw everywhere in the village of Chipping Campden. I loved the cauliflower soup we had one day at lunch with potatoes and kale. I have fallen in love with an English interior decorating magazine called “World of Interiors” that one can buy in bookshops in London. I found a new scotch when we had drinks at the Soho Hotel one evening and the next morning discovered a small round coffee cup that fit perfectly in my hand. It was so charming and wonderful that it almost tempts me to give up the American huge coffee mug habit and go European with my caffeine habits. And there’s a flower shop in Vienna portrayed in a book I read several years ago (The Flower Shop by Leonard Koren) that I must visit before we leave tomorrow.

It makes me wonder if the perfect practice—regardless of the setting— might be this simple:

Pay attention. And take notes.