Last blog post, 7 years later

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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Good Things in Hong Kong (+ one travel tip)

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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Fall in CPH

I booked myself two extra days in Copenhagen this trip. Two whole days  – with friends and solo – in sunny, crisp, cool air… wandering streets, shopping, eating good food. It was a rare treat in one of my favorite cities.

There’s a misconception in the U.S. that because the Danish government levies taxes and administers public services it is socialist. That is not what socialist means, and if it were I’d be asking to sign right up.

Working in a multimillion dollar corporate headquarters then shopping on Strøget, I can tell you capitalism is alive & well in Copenhagen. Yes, it’s true that accumulating tremendous capital is challenging with Danish tax rates, but the quality of life is fantastic & if you have 3 or 4 kids the benefits outweigh the costs.

One thing I loved was all the gluten-free options, as tons of Scandinavians are celiacs & I’ve discovered I have a nasty reaction to wheat (not convenient but I feel so much better). I actually bought a big box of cereal & brought it back in my suitcase. I tried 3 groceries before I found these. They’re in the basement of Magasin du Nord.

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Under the Tuscan, Um, Sun

Just back from a week in a fabulous villa in the heart of Chianti. Click here to see photos of it, and they don’t begin to do the place justice. It was magnificent. I highly recommend Barbara at for your next getaway — it’s so much nicer and more afordable than hotels! She went above and beyond to make sure our villa vacation went well. Too bad she couldn’t do anything about the weather.

We were a group of 16 in two villas… gallivating around Tuscany. We could see San Gimignano off in the distance from poolside at the villa and made trips into Florence and Siena, and to two local wine and olive oil producers. Thank you goes out to Antonio, my dear friend and the ultimate wine connaisseur.

It was a birthday celebration, too. Four of us had birthdays in May. They were celebrated with fine wine, good food, beautiful vistas and much laughter.

I didn’t know most of the women before we went and it was an experiment in how it would go planning people’s itineraries and journeys. I am ready for business! The way I live now, it is easy and natural to provide high-quality adventures full of inspiration and beauty. Know anyone who could use my travel planning services?

Hornbaek Haiku

Am in a corporate training all week about forty minutes north of Copenhagen. The course happens in the hotel where we’re staying, which is super-convenient. Luckily the food and hospitality are great… and still, after a while, I just need to get outside and *walk.*

Tonight at about 9:15 I walked through Hornbaek, the small village. I was headed toward the beach. Actually, I wasn’t sure where it was, and it is Scandinavian winter — dark, dark, dark. Most everything is closed. It is quiet.

After a while, that homing beacon anyone who grew up near the ocean has kicked in and I could smell and hear the water before I could see it. I walked through the grounds of a hotel closed til summer and climbed tall, sandy dunes. When I reached the top, I knew it was one of those moments you never forget. I was completely alone on a beach in northern Denmark… just out for an evening stroll. It’s quite a life that’s led me here.

Ever since a writing workshop I was in a few years ago, when I have one of these exceptionally present, perfect moments, I write haiku in my head. I walked down the beach thinking:

Cold, dark winter’s night.
Grassy sand dunes hide the sea.
I can see Sweden.

Back to Lugano tomorrow night and off to London on Sunday! Ciao tutti!

Guest post by Mufasa

I am Mufasa, and this is my guest blog post.

It’s about time I got my own post. I should have my own blog by now. I probably have the wildest adventures of any dog you know, but this will have to do.

For a snapshot of our lives, I thought I’d tell you about last Sunday.
It was pretty good, as far as dog days go.

The new man who lives here doesn’t work on Sundays, so we go on adventures – road trips and whatnot. I like him.

Sometimes I am accosted by onlookers. It can be tough for a dog of such dimension to maintain his dignity. Sometimes I have to turn my back on my pack, no matter what they’re doing. Sometimes I even have to strike a pose that says, “No more pictures.” Like this one.
The darnedest thing is that just when I think I’ve got my whole regal and refined routine nailed, somebody pulls out food and drooling gets the best of me. Sort of like it did here. You can click on the photo to see what I mean better (if you must).

I ask you, though, do you really think he needed that last piece of melon? I could have at least gnawed on the rind a little.

We all got in the car and went for a road trip/picnic/Italian adventure… turns out Lago Maggiore is just minutes west of us and we’d never even been there. We crossed the border a couple of times as we drove up its eastern shore, stopping for a picnic just north of Luino. It was fun and warm.
Since then it’s gotten cold and rainy. They’ve even turned the heat on in the house now, and for these frugal Swiss people that means it’s cold.

This afternoon was pretty good, too. We all three went into downtown Lugano, walked all the way across town along the lake through the big park, and then went inside Mom’s favorite pastry and coffee shop, definitely the fanciest one I’ve ever seen. I felt a little out of place there. The waiters were nice, though. The marble floor was cold, so it worked out okay. I behaved myself.

That’s a little of what’s happening here. More soon, I’m sure. Happy trails and many treats to you!

So Much to Share

So much catching up to do! Here goes:

Stefan lives here. This is how he spends most of his days.
The dog has decided something that goes like, “Mom, I know you love me and you’ve taken care of me for seven years, but haven’t you heard the saying? It’s Man’s best friend, Mom. Too bad for you.” He made this official during a windy storm a couple night ago when he crawled under the bed under Stefan (instead of on my side), with the giant white, no-licking cone on his head. What a noise that made. It must’ve been 3 or 4 a.m. Stefan moaned to me, “He’s under there with his hat on.” Now how do you like being his best friend?

We’ve had houseguests almost the whole time Stefan’s lived here, and have been away three of four weekends. Then we headed off to Amy’s in St. Gingolph, on Lac Leman.

Stefan worked on Friday and I took Mufasa to the *great* kennel in Bex. He loves it there. Out Amy’s window S snapped photos of the steamer ferries on the lake.

Friday night we went for an early dinner at the Creperie Bretonne in Amy’s little village, which is split right in two by the French border. Dinner was in France and was fantastic. I had the gallette (savory crepe) Provencale, which had ham and cheese and garlic inside and herbed, sauteed tomatoes on top. Yum.

The tiny little village, St. Gingolph, is lovely. We went to Lavey-Les-Bains after crepes. I won’t say too much about that because:
a) I already wrote a bunch about it and
b) my life is getting so good I might have to start being like that woman in the old Pantene hair ads, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Only mine would go, “Don’t hate me because my life is so great.”

Saturday we went questing, which is my dad’s way of saying (borrowed I believe from a Chevy Chase Family Vacation movie) we got in the car and went touristing sort-of aimlessly. We came upon a festival in Monthey, which is Switzerland but seems like France…

After a lunch of raclette (yes, dairy-related tragedy averted) and local sausages we moved on to Montreux, where we boarded the ferry S had been snapping photos of.

That’s Amy’s house there in the middle… she lives in the lower stone part.

Then we knocked around in Montreux for a bit, including taking a nap on a park bench by the water…

We ended a damn near perfect day with a feast with Amy at the Palais Orientale, the Middle Eastern place on the Lake I’ve written about before. A good time was had by all.

On Sunday we worked (we’re both helping Amy run and build her business) and went to pick up Mufasa at the great kennel. He was in a giant fenced area with about five dogs at least as big as him. He didn’t see us at first and we watched him just lying there enjoying himself, hanging out. The owner says he’s the best Great Pyrenees she knows. Said he was just ten minutes earlier wrestling full out with a giant, black Newfoundland and it was great fun to watch. When he saw Stefan he was so excited he squealed and tried to jump the fence — which is especially funny since he won’t even jump into the car for me and I have to lift him up. I think he’s in love with his new man-friend.

Tragedy Averted… I hope

A terrible thing happened.

Or I thought a terrible thing happened.

One day when I was 29 years old I was walking into American Eagle Outfitters in Boulder’s old Crossroads Mall and the strangest thing happened in the vicinity of my stomach. I’ll never forget it. I was headed to the back of the store, straight for the shoes, my mind on a particular pair. I don’t dawdle. As I walked it felt like my stomach stood up and rolled over right there inside my belly. Not like if you’re pregnant and you feel that first little flutter, but like if you had the Ally McBeal dancing baby in there and he jumped straight up and landed. Just once.

I looked at the shoes and walked out of the store to the escalator. I was headed for The Gap downstairs. By the time I reached the bottom of the escaltor I was in so much pain I couldn’t stand up straight.

Months later, the doctor diagnosed an allergy to corn.
May you never have that.
Corn is in everything in the US.

Since then every few years I discover new things I’m allergic to. First it was eggs; I’m okay as long as I don’t eat too much. Then I was housesitting at Wendy’s and she had a bowl of plums, which I never eat. They looked so good. I ate one and my throat swelled up. Never felt that before. Now avoid plums and peaches and some melons, which have the same effect. Orange juice now makes sores on my tongue right away. Weird. Most of this is just annoying, though. None of these allergies have really caused a major problem.

And then I thought I was lactose intolerant. This is the terrible thing of which I spoke.

You must understand. On my new facebook page for religion I put, “A national cuisine with this much melted cheese and chocolate is good for the soul.”

found in fidothe's flickrstream
found in fidothe's flickrstream

And then I started noticing I didn’t feel so good. A lot of the time. I decided to test out the theory and headed to The Swiss Chalet in the Geneva airport. It is a themed shrine to dairy products, complete with personal raclette burners and chocolate fondue served in copper pots at the table. What a good idea.

I had a salad before the main event, just to assuage the guilt.

Then the young, handsome, flirty waiter (He’d said, “tres jolie” of me to another waiter as I walked in… fun!) brought me my very own raclette burner… part high school chemistry lab, part classic French cuisine… all right there next to a huge stack of slices of stinky, soft raclette cheese (and some potatoes and pickles to put it on, but they’re just formalities).

I melted and savored each precious slice. It took almost an hour. I ate as much as I could. I think in retrospect that the portion was for more than one person. It was like an eating contest for me. The waiters stood by watching.

And then, about 15 minutes later, I was wracked with sharp pains from my belly. I wished for a Roman vomitorium.  (That was the Romans, right?)

On the way home to Lugano (this was the day I flew and it was beautiful but I left this part out when I wrote that post), gazed wistfully at the Matterhorn and mourned the cheeses I would not eat.

After I’d recovered I called two friends to share the tragic news. Beth said, “Well, maybe you can eat just a little bit of cheese. Anyone who eats an entire meal of cheese might have an upset stomach. “Oh, yeah!  Like, “Moderation in all things?”

My friend, Amy, though, an expat for many years here now, imparted wisdom that gave me hope: “You drank water with it, didn’t you?!” she exclaimed. “You can’t drink water with it! That’s why they all drink white wine — it’s acidic or something and if you drink water with the hot cheese it actually turns to a hard ball in your stomach. I’ve seen it happen.”

Oh, thank god. I’ll have to try it again. This time with wine. Closer to holy communion, if you ask me.

Summer in Switzerland

Summer in Switzerland is winding down, and shoved around intense bouts of unpacking, moving in, working, creating new work and doing all our normal day-to-day stuff, S and I have been doing exactly the kinds of things one must do in summer in Switzerland… and we’ve had company:

This is Stefan’s Dad last weekend

and Stefan’s Mom

We were going up the Rothorn (a large mountain in central Switzerland) on a funicular that was so steep Mufasa suddenly slid along the metal floor! I had ahold of his neck on the leash, but there was nothing for him to hold on to and the ride was long! He’s such a trooper; he didn’t even bark.

The views along the way and at the top were magnificent. We had lunch on the top.

Can you spot the goats in this photo?

After we’d landed back along the lake, we walked its shores and found a little cafe for a snack. S’s Dad said (in German, translation not exact), “This isn’t a walk, it’s an eating experience!”

This was the view from our table…

That was last Saturday. Last Sunday we met up with my parents in Wengen (one of my favorite places) for another day of more eating-with-a-view than hiking…

Can you spot the village in the photo? It’s Murren.

All this eating, hiking and mass transit wore Mufasa out… this is him asleep on my foot on the way down. The funny thing about this is that my legs were crossed and this foot is several inches up off the ground. A perfect headrest, I guess, for a big dog.

* all photos except this last one by Stefan

Monte Generoso

My friend Alesia likes to go on outings. Ask her to dinner, and she suggests somewhere out of town. Weekends are for getaways for her. I should not have been surprised, then, that when I thought we were going for our usual little Carona or San Salvatore hike yesterday, she had other plans. We set off at about 11 a.m. to find Monte Generoso. She thought she remembered a small sign on the way to Chiasso — she’d seen it almost two years ago when she was here for interview. And she found it again.

We parked our car somewhere near the small border town of Riva San Vitale and took the cog railway up Monte Genroso. I talked the girl at the counter into half-price tickets for all of us — me, Alesia and Mufasa.

After a fortifying lunch at the top-of-the-mountain restaurant, we were ready to brave the throngs of German-speaking tourists and climb to the top. Mufasa was fascinated by the goats and sheep all over the trail.

Alesia and I were fascinated by the parasailers, who took off just feet from us. Looks like fun.

Too bad it was hazy…

Alesia has a great camera (I have camera envy.). I will post more of her photos soon, but here is one of Mufasa… 🙂