If you’ve followed this blog, or even just read the About page, you know I didn’t set out on these XpatAdventures alone.

Oh, no. This path has not been a solitary one.

Even before the first blog post, I shared this road from stepmother in Colorado to tenure-track professor in Idaho, to entrepreneur-supporting, world-traveling expat in Switzerland with a 100-pound canine companion.

At least three different people, not knowing each other and years apart, have claimed he wasn’t really a dog but a human with fur. Lately it’s seemed he was just days from fully formed speech; that’s how clear his communication was.

You can see more about him here.

Mufasa and I have shared our lives for 13 years.

Until this week.

The night after Mufasa died (not the first night, the first night I drank wine and fast forwarded through bad romantic comedies, but the very first night after that) at about 9:30 pm, just as the summer sun was setting, I put on my dog-walking clothes and went for a long, fast hike.

It had been at least a year since Mufasa had been able to go for the kind of walk he loved — up through the park above the house, across the street into the woods, along the dirt logging road south-east of home, down the hill fast to the street and back along the block of houses where tens of dogs pee each day, so lingering to sniff everything.

I took that walk because he would have wanted to and I still could.

And it made me happy.

It made me happy to think that even after he’s gone I can live like he showed me and bring along some of the joy we shared.

Here are a few of the things he taught me. I’m sure they’ll work for you, too:

Go for a hike.

Be amazed… by the trees you’ve seen a thousand times and each stranger who crosses your path.

Relish your food.

Love your people.

Say a hearty “Yes!” to any sentence that begins, “Do you wanna…?” because it’s almost always a treat, a trip in the car, or a walk. Perk up. Say yes. It’ll be good.

Explore.

And most of all: Enjoy. Enjoy it all. Enjoy sounding the alarm. Give chase without care or caution. Make friends of all shapes and sizes. Be your beautiful self.

Here’s the last idea: Even after almost eight years here, I am fighting for my work and residence permit again. Fighting might not be the right word. I’m applying for a one-year renewal and it is frightening. I used to say, “Home is where Mufasa is.” For a moment on my walk I thought, “It would be so much easier to just go back to the United States now,” and I can since Mufasa is gone.

I walked these hills and fields tonight, though, breathed in the muggy night air, and realized I am so happy here, just me, alone. I love this life. I live here. This is not a temporary thing. I have friends and music and rewarding work and opportunity and I love this land, this country, this place. It doesn’t make me any less American, it is all part of this expat adventure. This, every bit of it, is what it’s all about.

I am at peace and know that my big, sweet, lumbering, joyful companion is, too. Rest in peace, funny, gorgeous boy. The world is poorer tonight for losing you. And don’t worry… I might not need guarding any more.

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Years in review

03 Jan 2013

The last 3 years I’ve made year-end iMovies and am so glad to have them now. I hope they’ll be great fun to look back on, and the process of making them is revelatory.

So much happens in a year! It’s easy to lose track. They’re not at all expressions of everything that happened. I was in Denmark somewhere between 5 – 10 times last year and that’s not in here at all. I also nearly burned down my apartment building right before I had to move out. None of the photos of the smoked out kitchen are in there. For, perhaps, obvious reasons.

Really… it was a tough year. I had to move twice and live in friends’ places for a couple months in between. I wasn’t sure if I’d get a residence permit ’til it came through in August. Oh, then there was the skin cancer removed from my face. That actually turned out to be great fun!  Which is the overarching theme of the year — there is beauty EVERYWHERE.

When your sweet 100-lb. dog has three grand mal seizures in one afternoon, lets loose gallons of pee on the oriental rug, and licks your face to thank you for taking care of him? Beauty. When the surgeon tells you you MUST stop laughing so he can stitch your eyebrow back up straight? Beauty. What’s featured here? These are just personal highlights that have good pictures to go along with them. Beauty is everywhere, people. Everywhere.

The most interesting thing about making the videos has been the song selection — every single time I start this process a song has popped into mind immediately as the only possible theme song for the year. You’ll notice that each of the songs is very different. The moods for the years vary wildly: “All Will be Well” by the Gabe Dixon Band, “Many the Miles” by Sara Bareilles and this year “Beauty in the World,” Macy Gray.  Buy those (don’t download illegally). I did . On iTunes.

What would your theme song for last year be?

Here are all 3 iMovies. I hope you enjoy…

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Inspired.

03 Sep 2012

Walk so lovely tonight I had to break my blog silence. This poem came tumbling out as we walked. Punctuation’s all off, I know. Sometimes life is like that… or poems are, at least. Hope you enjoy.

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Seven years ago today, I sat in my office in Shoup Hall at the University of Idaho and wrote my first blog post. The walls were made of cinder block painted off-white. I’d moved from Boulder, Colorado just the previous summer and was thrilled at the prospect of staying in touch via blogs. I was missing Home, and my people.

More miles than anyone should count and at least 36 countries and territories later, here’s the last post for XpatAdventures:

Spring has arrived in Zurich. Birds are chirping everywhere and sun is pouring through the living room windows, making it far warmer inside than out.

Tomorrow I need to remember to close the blinds so it’s cooler for Mufasa. I can’t believe he’s been on this entire journey with me. It’s clear his time is coming to an end – he walks slowly up the path from the door and pants after just a few steps. It’s tough for him to stand and sit, but he still looks at me with a hint of mischief in his eyes and comes to find me when he’s hungry for dinner. He sniffs his way around the neighborhood, eyes glazed over with a greenish shine, his hearing not as sharp as it once was.

In Boulder, when we told him we were getting divorced, my stepson said: “Now we can stop struggling.” and “If Dad gets me, you get the dog.” It’s been 56 dog years since we left Colorado, since I packed him into the back of my silver Nissan Pathfinder and drove away from our entire life.

Mufasa was only six to eight weeks old when we met at the Boulder Humane Society. Sometimes people call dogs from places like that “rescue dogs.” I’m not sure who saved whom.

I didn’t know when we set out that there’d be this much change and isolation for so long. I sought to make a home and family again. Instead I have seen so much of the world, met and connected amazing changemakers & committed souls, and explored terrain (internal & external) rocky & steep.

I stay in touch with friends in Colorado as if it’s been just a few weeks, as if I never left. Their lives there continued and mine didn’t. Andrew Love, a great writer, speedskater, father and friend said it’s kind-of like time dilation in science fiction books. “You drop in all world-weary and tired from your travels and our lives have moved on – we’ve had kids and gotten new jobs and made new friends; people have died – but you haven’t gone through that with us. We pick up where we left off; you’re the same as back then, and we haven’t seen the world with you.”

I want to say every day to the people I love: I wish I could bring you with me and that I could stay with you. There’s this strange pull of Home and a longing to see and do everything, everywhere, all at once.

I wish that I could say after all these years I have figured it out, solved the riddle of Home.

For now, I am savoring these last days with Mufasa – the only one who’s seen it all. For now, Home is where Mufasa is.

He’s not going quietly into this dark night. I don’t blame him.

He has stood on the side of the Matterhorn contemplating chasing herding sheep. (That’s what he’s doing here…)

He’s been to the top of the Jungfrau and taken the car ferry across Lake Como to a five-star hotel in Bellagio, Italy… more than once.

He’s visited the beautiful Munich Christmas market… and didn’t see a thing but scored *lots* of discarded pretzel and bratwurst.

He’s treed a cat on the grounds of a 16th century Tuscan villa and stood poolside victorious. The soundtrack for this next photo should be “We are the Champions;” he is standing proud for all dogs, everywhere.

It’s an amazing 12-year journey we’ve been on together: Here’s the story of how Mufasa came into my life. (Warning: cute puppy photos) Here’s a guest post from him back when we lived in Lugano. Here’s the post from when he had cancer in 2008.

And here’s a tidbit from more recently, December 2011:

I’m on the phone; it’s a business meeting – a call with a PepsiCo executive in Turkey. Mufasa couldn’t stand up again this morning. This is mostly from the phenobarbital, I think, a ghastly medicine they put him to control seizures.

Actually, he stood at first just fine, then tried to climb the stairs to the kitchen for his breakfast and fell, all splayed, on the hard marble steps. I helped him back down (only 1 step) and he slid around at the bottom trying to stand. It took quite a while and an elevator to get him upstairs.

He plunked (literally, it sounded like, “plunk”) down in the middle of the living room floor after he ate. From the middle of the room like that he can see everything that happens on this floor of the apartment. I’ve been reading online about how people know when it’s time to euthanize. They say things like, “When the spark is gone out of their eyes.” Or “When they don’t eat and enjoy things anymore.” My vet at first said, “When he can’t stand up anymore.” He’s recanted that statement.

There was a jar of peanut butter next to me on the couch as I spoke on the phone with that PepsiCo executive. From his middle-of-the-living-room position Mufasa first politely requested then more forcefully demanded I stand up and bring him some. He’s not stupid; it was too easy, really. He’s knows when I’m on calls like that, business calls, important calls. He also knows that if he makes enough noise during such a call I’ll do just about anything to placate him. Also… he really likes peanut butter.

I caved, and he had a couple tablespoons of peanut butter.

This is why the three vets I’ve asked if it’s time to think about euthanizing look at me like I’m crazy. He has difficulty standing some days. He’s having grand mal seizures, sometimes more than once in an afternoon. He still enjoys things, though, thank you very much.

Goodness, he is my dog. We live large and love the ride. “Life is good,” he’d tell you if he could. He tells me every day still in a thousand different ways.

I guess that’s what we’ve learned all these years, on all these expat adventures of ours: we are surrounded by overwhelming beauty; there is joy to be had everywhere.

We are on a long and winding road, the 2 of us. The light is not anywhere near gone out of his eyes. He’s on a new pain med & for the first time in about 8 months tonight he went to his basket of toys in the living room, got one, and brought it to me to play tug of war & fetch. Just when I think the journey with him is over, he keeps going. And so we both move forward… for now together.

Thank you to each of you who’ve cared for and stayed with him while I’ve worked and travelled overseas. He adores you, and you have made so many of the adventures here possible. Thank you for sharing the ride with us.

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Wear sunscreen.

01 Apr 2012

“Ladies and Gentlemen… Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable then my own meandering experience.”

- Mary Schmich (made famous by fab ’90s song by Baz Luhrmann – watch here!)

Just removed the steristrips and saw the stitches for the first time. Though surgeon was hot and great fun, I’d rather have worn sunscreen and not had this experience. Sunscreen, people. Sunscreen. Any color, even a nice tan, is an indication of damage to your skin.

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Slow Saturday. Snow falling. Big dog’s had 10 good days in a row and is walking up ahead. (Can you see him on the path below? He blends in.) This is all I need right now.

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I’ve been thinking about this photo lately. It’s my 95-year-old Mema, her daughter (my Mom) and me this past summer. We’re at a benefit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando. The Florida Bar Foundation was honoring my Mom’s work with Teen Courts nationwide.

My Mom is Mema’s youngest. She had her when she was about 30. I’m my Mom’s youngest; she had me when she was 24. My Mom and I spend a lot of time together since I moved to Switzerland… she’s here months of every year. She is by far my favorite travel companion. No one else eats anywhere near enough. This is ironic; she is tiny. They make me look so tall! (I am 5’4″.)

I’ve been thinking about what we have in common and what’s different about our lives.

In a recent conversation with my Mema she said, “I wish I knew how long I had left so I cold make more plans. Right now I can’t plan past this trip to Vegas.”

Chalk that up to something we have in common: the Adventurer Gene.

Mema also loves to dance and have a good time; that we have in common, too.

Our lives have been so different, though. In some ways I think her 90s are Mema’s best decade. She’s doing pretty much anything she wants. No ailing husband to care for (God rest their souls), no kids to raise, she reads everything she can get her hands on and emails and watches tv and eats whatever and whenever she wants. She has three suitors and runs an alterations business out of her apartment. She’s a gifted painter.

“I started drinking caffeinated coffee after your visit,” she told me.

“Do you sleep?”

“Well, no. Not so much. Some nights I just sing all night long… you know, all the songs I want to perform.”

That’s something Mema and I have in common: the singing and performance gene. It skipped a generation.

What’s interesting to note, though, and points to what I’d like to see XpatAdventures become, is this: Mema is breaking trail now, calling the shots, charting her own course in her 90s and it’s really the first time she’s had the means and luxury to do so alone.

My Mom needed to go find her way, her path, her route when I left home and she was in her early 40s (God bless my Dad who said to her, “I can’t do it for you, you have to go find your own thing.”) She found Teen Court and has built them across the United States, serving thousands of kids and families in need.

Me? I’ve been calling my own shots my whole life. In my twenties I guess I was still trying to do things Right, be a Good Girl, follow the normal, acceptable route. Then things happened.

I believe there comes a time when each of us realizes life as we planned it is not going to turn out. Some come to it through tragedy, others through disappointment, still others when the upward trajectory just has nowhere left to go.

We’re each left wondering, “What now?” and have an opportunity to chart an authentic, fulfilling course for ourselves.

 

That’s what I’d like XpatAdventures to be about. It doesn’t have to mean you’re single like me (or that I’ll stay single forever). It doesn’t have to mean you have kids or not, or a high-paying career or not, or a calling you want to chuck everything for.

It’s about: in this day and age each one of us, no matter what, will likely reach a day when it’s time to carve our own, unique, authentic course. Maybe your husband tells you you need to do it for yourself; maybe you realize if you don’t you’re going to go nuts, or you will have reached the end and never done the thing your heart longed for.

The question is the same. I’d like to help each of us answer it:

What’s your adventure?

That’s what I’ll be working on here over the next few months…

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Dim Sum

Want great Dim Sum in Hong Kong off the beaten path, outside of the three or four places recommended on all the Web sites? Try Chung’s Cuisine, One Kowloon, 1 Wang Yuen Street, Kowloon Bay. It’s in a huge office building, so mid-week lunches are busy. I’ve heard it’s crowded even on the weekends. Best with a big group so you can try lots of dishes!

Massage while you wait for your flight

Second massage this year at the Traveler’s Lounge, Hong Kong Airport and it was even better than the first. This place is the best deal going. I got in free this time with my frequent flier membership. Arrive on an empty stomach – there’s a great noodle soup station with fish balls, fish cakes, and all the fixings you need. Internet access (kind-of spotty) is included in the entrance price, too. I go early to the airport just to go to this lounge. Can get overcrowded, unfortunately.

Bad Hotel

This trip the company booked me at the Harbour Plaza Metropolis. Yuck! Creepy dirty (hair in shower & bed), tiny room, far from everything. Last trip I was at the Sheraton and will go back there again next time. The club floor included some laundry service, good food and a great view from the lounge of the nightly light show in the harbour. It was worth the upgrade fee.

I’d like to go back and explore the area around Hong Kong more – I bet there’s great hiking & good beaches not too far away. It’s a fascinating place.

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It was billed the “Game of the Century.” Last Saturday 160,000 people were in the tiny town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama for it. My father and I were 2 of them. It was my first Alabama football game since childhood.

We didn’t have a whole lot of Jesus in my house as a kid… we had Bear Bryant. My Dad, descended from Methodist ministers, pretty much worships at the altar of Alabama football.

His great, great grandfather Isaac Self moved to Alabama in 1817. The University was established the same year the Trail of Tears began: 1831. Skip ahead 131 years and my Dad was a Phi Delta Theta on campus; his first-born, a son, was born the November day Alabama beat in-state rival Auburn for the 1964 National Championship. It’s a small miracle he wasn’t named Bama. Really.

After Blank Slating, I’ve been filling the white space of life with what’s important to me. It’s been made up of quiet moments in the woods near home with my sweet giant of a dog. With going to a football game with my Dad. With laughter on calls with old friends, with good simple food and rewarding work. I’ve got a related post up over at Gypsy Girls Guide. Check that site out, won’t you? The women there are amazing.

Oh. And “Roll Tide!” even though we lost. The whole experience was a win for me.

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