Yes, I mean YOU.

It was a fun weekend. Girlfriend houseguest (who’s been around all 5 years of my expat experience and is one of the lead characters in A Year, A Broad), we had a night out on the town with a fabulous man including much laughter & red wine. Christmas lights in the snow. Long dog-walks in the woods talking, talking, talking.

I said to her, “You’ve made so many friends here.”
“Yeah,” she said, “but you’re fearless. You just do the things you want to do.”
“That’s just work,” I said. “People scare the s@%# out of me.”

In some ways, she has what I want and vice versa. Isn’t that funny?

And, yes, I meant you.
Pretty much all of you.
Funny.

And that’s what Brene Brown meant in her TEDx talk (below)… my friend is going back to school now (in her 40s) and I am working every day to just put myself out there and connect even when I’m scared to death. Wholehearted, I say. We can’t stop now.

XpatAdventures’ Big Day: Boldly Going

Today’s a big day for XpatAdventures:

1. I’m a guest poster over at Anastasia Ashman‘s expat+HAREM, a beautiful, resource-filled site & growing community of expats online
and
2. at Bindu Wiles’ fabulous Shed Project – join her!

I didn’t plan to guest post on 2 blogs today; it’s a coincidence. How cool is that?!

3. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. It’s also MOVING Day here at XpatAdventures headquarters in Lugano.

Moving

The Serbian moving guys arrived at 8 a.m. I’d slept two hours and still wasn’t ready. Mom’s been working herself silly to get things sorted and packed.

If you read the post on Bindu’s site, you’ll see I got over Shedding stage I was at then: abject denial and irritation. That was a few weeks ago. Today I’m still a little sad… I’m sad because this apartment, this tiny village, the garden in the backyard… it’s all so gorgeous and because I didn’t have the life I’d envisioned here. Work, friends, romance & partnership… none of them are here. It is time to move on, and I am deeply, deeply ambivalent about it.

I had this moment around lunch time today, though, the moment I’ve been longing for. As I stepped away from the self-storage unit that holds almost all my earthly belongings, I realized I am totally free. I can do anything! Sometimes I let material stuff and bad relationships limit me. Today I am out from under them. The world is my oyster; the future’s wide open. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and found myself driving through lunchtime Lugano traffic with a grin on my face.

And I’ve realized something lately… it’s about exploration. You know the subtitle of this blog is “…because not all who wander are lost.”  Though lost, I guess, could be a word to describe me of late, it’s really about exploration. I am drawn to exploration. Questing, seeking, trying new things and ideas, meeting new people and introducing them to others, baking with a dash of this and a handful of that just because maybe it’ll work… it’s part of my way of doing things, and it makes this life I lead possible. I’ve always said I’d try almost anything once, maybe twice just to make sure the results from the first time were typical. I love an extremely safe sense of danger (if you can imagine that) when I try something new, when the possibilities are boundless. It makes life sweeter to me.

Is it like that for you, too?

Today I reclaim my Explorer self (and picture Patrick Stewart at the helm of the Starship Enterprise every time I think about it, I swear) No more pansy expating for me – it’s time for boldly exploring. Three packed suitcases are lined up now where the china cabinet used to be. One’s packed with spring suits for Brazil; one’s packed with vacation clothes for Turkey; one’s packed with gloves and hat because it will be colder and probably rain in Amsterdam. I have no apartment right now but by God I have these adventures! Feeling a little bolder these days… who’s with me?

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This Expat Life: Old Friends Are So Important

I suspect that when you live in the same city most of your life, old friends are taken for granted… or at least become part of your daily routine, your landscape.

Moving around for work and pleasure the way I do, old friends become lifelines, grounding reminders, salve & balm, sources of great humor and humility, homing beacons sometimes. They are like gold to me, rare and precious. They’re also great comforts and sources of love when I don’t know a soul wherever I sit. I’m talking about the people who truly love you even when you are not at all graceful. (For me that can be *profoundly* un-graceful and often.) These are the keepers, and there are not many of them.

I thought I’d share part of an exchange an old friend & I had today. This was over IM & I asked permission. Also, if you are not grandfathered into calling me by the name below, please do not do so. 😉 He’s allowed because he’s been a great friend for 21 years.

5:23pmFrom fab friend: you are 98% fabulous… and that last 2% just drives you nuts
5:23p
From fab friend: I am only 75% fabulous, but for a man, that’s really high
From fab friend: (AND THIS IS WHEN I REALIZED HE KNEW ME BETTER THAN I KNOW MYSELF)
From fab friend: Your location, more than anyone I have ever met… is immaterial.. it only matters to you in the sense that it inspires your true work…and that means your location floats… I don’t think of “where becky lives” I think of “where is she traveling”

It was hard to hear on one hand, and great to read on the other… because for at least ten years I’ve been chasing an ideal of HOME, trying to create as close to a Beaver Cleaver lifestyle as I could given my endless curiosity and myriad passions. When I stop to think about it now, Wow! That’s a pretty high bar I’ve set! It’s been a lot of pressure on myself and those I’ve included in the project. I’ve believed all this time (and still do) that I could have it all. In my world having it all is an exceptionally tall order. At the very least, I’ll need to choose viable candidates lit up by this kind of lifestyle.

Do you want to have it all, too? Home, family, loving partnership, great food, international travel, pets, a garden, nature and athleticism… I could go on and on and on. Really what it comes down to is this feeling of being known and loved; from where I sit it’s the most important thing. And for expats it’s tough. No one knows who we are and those who do are thousands of miles away. So here’s an assignment:

Call or write or go visit your people in foreign countries or other parts of your own… you know the ones who are always telling you they have a guest room or spare couch and they’d love to have you? If you are a friend like the one above, go. Of course he and his wife were among the first visitors here years ago.

Thank you, fab friend.
The mere thought of you makes my heart sing.

You are more than 75% fabulous…and I am less than 98.
Baci alla famiglia da Lugano.

Thanks, Jess!
Thanks, Jess!

ADDENDUM: I thought I might just add here my fave blog quote from this fab friend: “After the apocalypse there will be Keith Richards, the cockroaches and Becky saying, ‘Well, that sucked. What’s next?'”

God I love you, fab friend. You get me. Thank you for that.

What’s XpatAdventures about?

This blog has been a scary place for me lately. I’m never sure how much to say anymore and do you want travel info., personal narrative or how-to tips for making big life changes? There’s also always the nagging question, “How personal is too personal on the Internet?” I’ve been self-censoring and loathe all forms of censorship.

Meeting the Yahoo! Shine crew at BlogHer was a great opportunity to articulate on camera what XpatAdventures is now, five years after moving abroad, how it started and where it’s going… no matter where I go.

And I just have to say, because you know I am like that about my hair, I sooo wish one of them had told me it looked bad on that side… a quick run-through with the fingers & it’d have been A-ok!

We had a much longer conversation – they did a GREAT job editing.

The sweet interviewer asked me to post How-to Tips. She’s the second person who’s asked recently, so it’s on my to-do list. In September I’ll be working with Bindu Wiles on How to Whittle Down Your Stuff, Clear Your Clutter and Get on with Life. What would you like to know How to Do from XpatAdventures?

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Things I didn’t think on the way to the Adventure

I had my first mammogram this week. As I stood there, half-naked in the hospital room, I realized that even though my Italian pronunciation is pretty good and I can ask nicely for basic things, “I’d like to make an appointment for… please” there are many words I do not know. Like the word for bra.

That was nothing compared to the instructions to shove myself up against the giant plastic and metal contraption that captured the images. Ladies, how come we never talk about that it’s like something out of that 1997 Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey movie, Contact? I vaguely understood the tech’s Italian when I winced and she said, “It’s supposed to hurt a little.”

And okay, let me just say here… if men regularly needed a machine to look for cancer in their own parts, they would not put up with such an awkward, uncomfortable testing device. Picture man after man after man lining up and parading through all day long to drop his drawers, shove himself up against a cold machine, and have the family jewels squeezed til he winces. It wouldn’t happen. I’m just sayin’.

The whole procedure was odd. It’s strange enough, I suppose, in your own home town, and totally surreal in another culture, in a foreign language. Chalk that up to another thing I didn’t think about when I moved overseas.

If I had thought about all these things, I’m not sure I would have moved. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I wish I’d stayed or I want to move back. It’s more about the thought process it takes to get things done, to live your adventures. Kelly Corriganin her great new video Dare You, says:

Starting things, relationships or non-profits, screenplays or marathons, takes a certain willing suspension of disbelief. This suspension is hard to maintain but its perpetuation is Job 1. I’ve written two books and I can tell you that writing one word at a time when there are 60,000 words to go requires a state of flat-out dissociation.

Here’s the thing, and you can probably see by now that it’s not just about becoming an Expat, it’s about becoming Anything. It’s about the kind of thinking you need to set out on and live your Adventures, whatever they are.

You cannot start out with the thought, “I can’t.”  No adventure worth your time ever started that way.

Two different people this week, one I know very well and one I barely know at all, said that phrase to me, “I can’t.” One said it quickly, in a long conversation we were having about finding a job and moving overseas, “You can’t just up and do that.” He meant I, not you. The use of the second person pronoun was dissociation of a different sort.  The other said, “I can’t do that…” and listed a couple personal reasons why.

Oh, but you so completely can. It makes me wonder how many things each of us is longing to do, but we never get to it because of the voices in the back of our heads shouting their bad advice, “I can’t,” “You can’t” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Those voices are no fun. They’re never going on any good adventures.

What would you do if those voices in your head had a really good day and said out loud, in the back of your head, “Sure, you can!” or “I’m not sure how, but I will…” What are the things you think you want but you never do because of “I can’t?”

Because you know what? You can.

Being an Expat, a new narrative

Mom’s still visiting and the weekend’s approaching (means husband comes home from his out-of-town job soon). Turns out we all wanted Things Made of Leather (mom = wallet, S = belts, me = black leather jacket) for Christmas… so what’s the logical thing for XpatAdventurers to do?

Head to the local post-holiday sales in dept. stores?  No!

Go to Florence, Italy, heaven for leather goods, of course!

We’ll be there Friday through Sunday, in a little hotel between the Uffizi Galleries and the Ponte Vecchio. The area’s as close to a living museum as I’ve ever seen. Photos to follow soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m doing on this blog these days. Adventures here and there are good and all, but to tell you the truth, I enjoyed this a lot more when there was a story to it, you know? A narrative arc, even if it was a pretty familiar (even trite?) one: heartbroken former stepmom flees to Europe to remake her life…

That was years ago now.

And then there was the part of being an expat that was all new and fresh and shiny, when every day was very nearly mindblowing, when I held out little plastic containers of pasta (gnochi, to be precise) and photo’d them for you to see how new and shiny and very nearly mindblowing every little last thing about living in this new, foreign country was.

But we’ve walked the neighborhood, you and I. We’ve explored local villages and eaten at all the neighborhood joints.

What happened next on this Expat’s adventure I imagine is probably pretty typical of most:

– after the Dating Game (a completely different story, see this post or that)

– I left the job I’d come here for and started over professionally in a place where I knew almost no one and didn’t speak the language. That went unbelievably well and I am indebted to one person in particular. She knows who she is (and now so do all of you).

– Then, after a while, my friends moved back “home.” That happens in expat communities.

Now, given that I skiied Andermatt last weekend and am going leather shopping in Florence today, I do not expect you to pull out your violins and play all the heavy, Wagnerian, sad songs for me. No, no, no. That is not the point. The point is… what the hell happened to Frances Mayes after Under the Tuscan Sun?

I’ve read some of those other books and they are pretty damned boring. Liz Gilbert’s gonna write about marriage next. Don’t even get me started on that!

So… all that is to say… in 2010 it’s time to write a new chapter, construct a new narrative. If you’re like me, when it’s time for this you think to yourself, “Oy Vay! I did that four years ago, and then again three years ago!  Enough already!”

I think we both know, though, that re-creation is the spice of life.

That, and turmeric.

And after the “Oy Vay” passes, something happens and off you go. I’m not quite there yet, just so we’re clear. I’m still at least a little in the “Oy Vay!” stage. Plus that, and I know this is probably a different post, I turn 40 this year. Oh boy, are there about to be some posts about that. You can also expect upcoming posts on my usual New Year’s Business.

For now, I’m going to the market in Florence and eating a lot of good food Under the Tuscan Sun.  Ciao tutti!

A little Swiss Humor

An American friend who used to live here in Switzerland once said the Swiss have no sense of humor. I’ve seen several indications recently, though, that that is simply not true.

First, I boarded this plane December 2 on the way to Dusseldorf.  Had to stop on the tarmac and shoot a few pics.  The other people boarding thought that was funny!

painted SWISS plane 2

painted SWISS plane 1

On the way home, I saw this ad on the train. FUNNY!

snowboard cows

Best of all… this spot by myswitzerland.com was either produced by foreigners or is proof positive that the Swiss do, in fact, have a sense of humor. Enjoy!

An Accidental Environmentalist

I always wished I was a hardcore, outdoorsy, athletic, environmental, hippie chick.  You, know: long, flowy dresses, community gardening, can my own food, maybe even live off the grid.  I never understood patchouli but that is neither here nor there. I could never pull off the rest of it, either.  It’s just not who I am.

I love to camp and have always been a bit of a personal and political radical, but goodness, when I lived in the States I loved my SUV with all my heart and thought organic food was too expensive.

There’ve been several unexpected consequences of becoming an American expat in Switzerland.  First, in the two years before I moved to Europe, I got rid of almost everything I owned. I no longer shop as sport.  In the States my Mom and I and then my ex and I went shopping to fill time (Mom at the Mall, husband at Costco on Saturdays).  This pastime filled our closets, homes and garage and emptied our wallets.  It was a pretty unconscious pattern.  It’s just what we did.  Having fewer personal belongings has changed my life.  Life is simpler now. The time and space and freedom are a gift.hangingoutclothes

There’s no dryer where I live, so I’ve started drying clothes on a line.  Everyone should try this!  Your clothes last so much longer and stay colorful and don’t shrink!  It saves money and energy all at the same time.  Score!

I sold my beloved, silver 2000 Nissan Pathfinder in the U.S. and got a tiny Mitsubishi 2-door hatchback I rarely drive (work at home or out of the country, trains are so wonderful here and Lugano is pretty walkable).

I can’t imagine I’d ever go back to American suburban living now.  In Colorado, I lived 18 miles out onto the plain… in the flat expanse of suburbs east of Boulder, where houses sprung up like weeds in the late 1990s and early 2000s and now you can’t give ’em away. We lived in one of those neighborhoods where the only trees were tiny staked saplings and all the houses looked the same, but came in four or five different shades of tan or grey with the bay window either on the front or back depending on the buyer or builders’ request. Ours was dark grey with the window in the back, extending the kitchen enough for a small, round breakfast table.  I wouldn’t want to live like that again, car-dependent with no public transportation in sight.

marketLocal, organic food I’m not allergic to is plentiful here. It’s easy to buy food at weekly open-air markets, from the cheese man and the butcher and the little old man down the road who grows five kinds of lettuce.

In these four years I’ve become an environmentalist. It was an accident.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ADDENDUM: And another thing.  Grocery bags.  Seattle’s voting on a tax or 10 cent charge on grocery bags. It’s all over the news.  The plastics lobby is apparently spending millions fighting it (Imagine what that money could do in our schools, people.  They’re spending it to try to keep you using plastic bags. That is wrong on so many levels.)

Bags are expensive in the grocery store here, so you bring your own. It was tricky at first to remember to do that.  Now I have a bunch of bags I keep in the car and a bunch in the garage by the car, because, you know there are always extras lying around. (I do not know how it happens that shopping bags seem to multiply.)  Every time I use my nice collection of fabric bags I am so proud of myself.  Really, I am.  For remembering to bring them, for saving the money, and for doing whatever little bit I can to reduce the amount of waste and plastic we consume, all of us.  Really, Seattle, switch to fabric.  Try it, you’ll like it.

Hair Today, Orange Tomorrow

Just over a year ago, I blogged about my relationship with my hair and local stylists. This is sort-of like that but with a Halloween twist. In Spring. In a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween.

My friend L. was over today. We sat around drinking coffee solving most of the world’s greatest ontological riddles… you know, the really big existential ones like, “Why am I here?” and “Who am I really?”

In so doing, we decided there are two things we absolutely must go home to the States for: shopping and haircuts.

L. is 40 this year and finds herself fit, smart, tanned, with a good job and title… and strolling the streets of luxurious Lugano with a bi-level haircut reminiscent of the 1980s.

The super-swanky Luganese salon I go to turned my hair orange Thursday. I’m not sure you can get how fully orange, spotted and striped it was. Think calico cat mottled orange on black.

The woman (a different woman from the creative colorist) also refused to cut the top shorter so the back had more movement and the front wasn’t in my eyes all the time. She actually said no when I asked her!

When I went back the next day to have them fix the color, I didn’t want to push my luck by having them take scissors in hand.

I think I’ll trim the very front myself and I won’t even have to pay hundreds of dollars for it! This is definitely one of those Expat Adventure things…

A Hair Story

You know how on the HGTV and Lifetime-type channels, in between Trading Spaces and whatever home show is hip and new now, they have “A Baby Story” and “An Adoption Story”? Well, I think they should have “A Hair Story.” They could do the long-term hair stories like Dooce did in her recent post, breaking out the yearbooks and the hairspray-induced insanity that was 1980s bangs. They could have hair interventions. Then they could do short-term hair stories like this one:

2006, a year in hair

January, 2006: Very Fast Andrew took this photo on the balcony when he and Jess were here and he skated very fast in Davos. (Yes, I know the plastic is still on the chair.)  That hair. It’s long. Longest bangs I’ve ever had. And straight. Who knew?

April, 2006: I love this photo but if I remember correctly my hair is pushed up with sunglasses because it seemed to me like Cousin It atop my head… like any minute it might engulf my face, my entire being… Just goes to show you how reality and perception don’t always match up. Hmmm… I believe I was in some existential crisis because the good, Spanish hairdresser I’d found moved to Napoli. Crisis not entirely unfounded, as following photos reveal.

June 2006: First date with Stefan. We are on Canary Wharf in London. Hair didn’t look good, but in that tight little wraparound H&M dress who cares about the hair?!

October, 2006: I believe this is post-repair. This is a whole new conditon in my hair story. It’s the condition after I go to the hairdresser in shame because I have cut my own hair thinking I don’t like how she does it anyway so why pay 100 francs. She then has to cut off more because I’ve got it all crooked and caddywhampus (my new favorite word, I have no idea how to spell it).

Today’s post is inspired because at 3:30 I will be doing a walk of shame unlike any other — I am glad my regular hairdresser is on vacation; this is like the third time I’ve done this this year. Please don’t let me have the hot man hairdresser and have to explain in Italian that I have butchered my own hair on purpose but I have a doctorate so I am not, in fact, a complete idiot.

I digress. January, 2007: Long and dry like a Sahara summer. It needed to be fixed. I thought I’d just do a little fixing. I don’t like going to the salon here. I don’t trust them and I can’t talk to them and… hmmm… I think maybe it’s not them, it’s me. (I can hear my Mother laughing now b/c I think I have done this since I was a small child… not the cutting it myself, but all the rest of it.)

What’s your hair story?