I awoke Tuesday morning to read about more gun violence in my homeland, as news accounts relayed details of America's deadliest mass shooting in recent history.
The acts of an apparent lone gunman, as I write, have claimed at least 59 lives and injured more than 500 people.
This latest assault happened in the entertainment mecca of Las Vegas. Residents and tourists, including Kiwis, are bewildered, shaken and sad. It's heartbreaking when any destination is marred by violence. Vegas is one of many places on my yet-to-visit list. And now, it's one of many locations branded with innocents' blood.
It seems the world is more dangerous than when I was a kid in the 80s. Whether or not this is true would require extensive parsing of facts, comparing murder rates, acts of terrorism, deaths from natural disasters, wars, car crashes, airline crashes, famines, disease... so many ways to die prematurely, if one can, in fact, define premature death.
Losing a husband when he was 48 and his sister when she was 49 has skewed my view of middle age. You're middle-aged at 40 only if you're lucky enough to reach 80.
Whether any of us sees a ninth decade has little to do with equations (life insurance actuaries may disagree) and much to do with luck.
With that in mind, I try to feed wanderlust as safely as possible. Holiday travel is meant to be a respite, not an episode of Survivor. We seek beauty, novelty and peace, though the last item is rare when travelling with children.
My late husband and I were in Dublin during the 9-11 terrorist attacks. We had just arrived in Europe for a belated three-week honeymoon. It appeared regular air service to North America might not resume for weeks, so we stayed and roamed Ireland, Luxembourg and Italy. We were amazed, delighted and sad.
Every place has dangers, including home (ACC paid nearly $1 billion in claims the past year for home accidents). Yet because holiday travel is a luxury, I feel extra responsible for plotting a course that won't put my family at additional risk.
We're heading to Sydney for a wedding Saturday. Having explored the city a few times, I wanted to bring the kids somewhere new afterwards. Coastal New South Wales? The Australian fire service reported 70 bush fires the past couple weeks up and down the coast. A photo over Jervis Bay, in Southern NSW, showed skies thick with grey smoke. Maybe we'll visit another time.
Instead, I've chosen Brisbane, scene of severe flooding in 2011. I booked air tickets and a hotel. Three days later, the Bundaberg region, four to five hours' drive north of the city, got its biggest single-day rainfall ever, 340mm, with more to come. Brisbane's temperature dropped eight degrees Sunday, turning dry summer-like weather to soggy spring. Maybe we'll visit a Gold Coast theme park, like Dreamworld, where four people died last October on a water ride.
Europe? Terrorism. South Africa? Been there. Loved it, though my South African neighbour tells me I was exceedingly lucky to travel on my own, unscathed, with two small children seven years ago.
Pacific Islands? Cyclones. Caribbean? Out of budget this time, and also - hurricanes. Scientists (aside from the vanishingly small percentage expressing doubt about humans' role in climate change) say expect more weather catastrophes as our planet continues warming at a pace unprecedented in 1000 years (according to Nasa). Another place on my bucket list- Southern Alps glaciers. Researchers say these ice sheets have lost about a third of their mass the past four decades. I want to set foot on Franz Josef Glacier before it's gone. I'll stick to marked trails and try not to perish while sliding on expiring ice.
My 13-year-old daughter recently told me she wants to try skydiving. "Absolutely," I said. "Maybe when you're 18." Try it before you're a middle-aged (or elderly, depending on circumstance) mum who spends too much mental energy weighing risks and benefits. Jump while you have courage. Helen Keller wrote, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Note to self: it's never too late. Fear should not ground a soul who yearns to fly.
Then, I remember the ultimate adventure travellers - refugees. People from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar... fleeing famine, rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire, chemical attacks... They're not obsessing over Trip Advisor to learn if a hotel is grotty or grumbling about the price of city parking or closure of rides at amusement parks. Unlike me, they're heading on a journey because home is not safe. Just like me, they love their children.
One day, I'll visit Vegas. I hope to be amazed and delighted. I expect I'll also be sad.