You will never walk alone

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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Inspired.

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.

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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How Sunday Should Look

“It is this broken road with pitfalls and sharp turns and unexpected traverses that has brought me joy and adventure. ”  ― Alice Walker

This is how Sundays should look:

Wake up happy and give thanks. Check.

Delight in good people, fine food, beautiful weather. Check.

Run a little, walk a lot in great big woods. Marvel at the seasons changing. Check.

Laugh out loud at the old dog’s antics. Check.

Have faith. Check.

Only thing better would be you here with us.

Yes, you.

“Oh, she say. God loves all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

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Mufasa’s Big Adventures, Part 3001

It’s time for Mufasa to have his own facebook page. He’s on dogbook, but it’s just not enough. People tag me in photos of him… you know like they do with womens’ kids, too… only the inference is somehow not the same. Right now all the little photos that show up on my facebook Wall are of Mufasa. I love him madly, but the implication is that I’m a dog.

I’m single and that simply Will. Not. Do.

He needs his own page.

Plus, he has adventures like you would not believe. We must post his own photos.

It’s amazing how even six years into this expat adventure everyday occurrences are still remarkable enough that I wish I’d brought my camera. NOTE TO SELF: Remember to carry phone or camera everywhere.

Today Mufasa and I walked to the grocery store in Zollikon. It’s a big store, busy, on the town square. I tied him up right in the middle of the action — something I’d NEVER have done in the U.S. because you just don’t do that as often and because he was much younger and wilder and apt to misbehave.

He’s older now, more subdued. Actually, I have to face that he is quite old. It’s so difficult for him to sit I cannot ask him to do that anymore. He had a seizure Saturday night before last and seems fine now, but it was a pretty long one and he’s never had one before. The vet said it may not even be worth all the tests to see what caused it, just watch to see if he has one again, and then we’ll decide what to do. He’s old.

So there he was today: giant old dog, tied up in the middle of the town square in Zollikon, Switzerland. Instead of telling him to sit I had him lie down on the ground facing the grocery (he was pretty far away looking across the square). I peeked over my shoulder as I walked into the store and he was holding his head up so straight and proud, like a baby allowed to sit at the Big Kids’ table for the first time.

I shopped quickly because you never know what kind of trouble a hundred pound dog might get into while you’re not looking. I didn’t hear him, which (unlike with kids) was good.

The scene that greeted me outside in the square made me laugh out loud. There he was, paws straight out in front of him still holding his head up all regally as if he were the most gorgeous dog ever born, smack in the middle of a tight ring of crouching 4-year-olds. They were very close to him, only inches from every part of his body, and had clearly been instructed not to move or touch him. It was something to see – about 10 perfectly still preschoolers in special bright orange reflective outing gear, feet flat on the ground, little rumps resting on all their heels, hands held behind their backs, peering into his beaming face. The dog was smiling as if he’d been crowned Miss America and given a beefsteak bone instead of a tiara.

I told the teacher it was ok, they could pet him, and four or five nearly dove onto him. He didn’t move at all, just laid still and let their little fingers pet his crazy-long, silky fur.

I wonder how many of those sweet little Swiss German kids will tell their parents about him at dinner tonight.

Every day this dog amazes me. He teaches me patience and consistency. I might not have lived this expat adventure the way I have if it were not for him.

Wednesday morning we’re going on the train back out to HundeLand, his new favorite place, and they will surely post more photos of him on facebook. He’ll have his own facebook page by then.

ADDENDUM: When I tried to make him a facebook account it told me he was ineligible, I guess because he’s too young. LOL.

At the Olten train station after his visit to Hundeland he fell asleep on the platform. It’s hard work playing so much!

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Mufasa’s Big Adventure, Part 3,000

First try at the lead sentence: Mufasa’s been a breast cancer survivor for 3 years now, so I took him for a check-up at the beautiful Zurich Tierspital today.

Second try at the lead sentence: He’s getting old, so I took Mufasa to the gorgeous, sprawling, fabulous Zurich tierspital (University teaching animal hospital) today.

Let’s try the lead sentence Mufasa’s way.  He’d say (read this like a giant dopey character):

“I went on a field trip today! I rode the bus, and the tram, and made new friends, and had treats, and had some really good crusty bread at the busy bratwurst place! We sat by the lake and didn’t give those nasty swans any treats because all the treats were for me!”



I’m still learning lessons from Mufasa all the time.

Lately he’s showing me how to just rest when you need to. (Sometimes he rests on our walks now. This is new.)

This is how he positions himself in the bus & tram most of the time. Sometimes he’s further out in the aisle. Notice he’s got himself where he can see out full-length glass doors. Life is so exciting. Wouldn’t want to miss anything.

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He’s teaching me valuable lessons about other people, too. You can really tell this when he rides the public transportation around here. With every new person who enters he looks and raises his ears like this, as in, “What fresh wonders might you present?”

Mufasa Who dat

Below he’s actually making googly eyes at a University student who clearly liked him and was watching him the whole time. Mufasa can really spot the good ones. He pays attention to the ones who are interested.

Some of the people who get on the tram here are just so incredibly uptight… all hair-slicked-back, dark designer suit, stuffy dullards… and Mufasa brings this behavior out because heaven forbid they get a white hair on their navy blue Armani suit! I want to say to some of these guys, “Life is short! Lighten up and get over yourself!” Plus, how can they keep acting like that when this kind of glee and joy is sitting right next to them? It is so clearly not about them.

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This unfortunate shot below I stuck in only because I find it cute:

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Here he is facing the door… waiting… waiting. Finally, Mufasa’s taught me to watch closely because you never know what’s going to happen next!

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The wonderful veterinarian we met today taught us both something, too. I was explaining how so many vets (here especially) say, “Let’s not do anything about that because, you know, he’s old.” They don’t intend to clean his teeth, or remove growths, or check cysts or a lot of things.  This wonderful woman heard that, gasped, got down right in Mufasa’s face, grabbed his big muzzle in one hand, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you listen to them. Age is not a condition.” Lesson learned.

Mufasa enjoyed his day and many, many other people enjoyed him today, too.

I am so grateful he’s shared these many adventures with me.

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Where I’ve Landed

Before I moved into this apartment 2 weeks ago I was telling people, “I only signed a year lease. I’m not sure if I’m going to like it there…” Blah, blah, blah.

I LOVE IT!

Here’s a look at the first night in the new place: Nothing had been delivered yet. Picture two floors of empty space. All I had was a twin mattress on the floor downstairs and a couple of suitcases. I’m getting ready to go to sleep, so I walk down the stairs to find this:

Mufasa new apt
"Not sure where you're sleeping, Mom, there's only room for one..."

He thought it looked just right for him! I shooed him off, went to sleep, and in the middle of the night he crawled in and spooned! He had the whole apartment available! He makes me laugh every single day.

So here’s the neighborhood: when you look down the street, you can see the hills on the other side of the lake, but not the lake itself. Looking up the street is the best part, though. We’re on the very edge of a giant forest with miles and miles of trails. Mufasa, of course, thinks this is grand, and since my iron levels have gone back up, I feel like running for the first time in a couple years.

down the street

up the street

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M walking in forest

Apartment’s still a mess, but I adore it. You must come for dinner!

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The best part of being here has been that the bus departs from very near my place and whisks me into the heart of Zurich in just 14 minutes. So parties, drinks with new people, work, it’s all nearby.

It’s a gorgeous day in Zurich today, so we’re going for a long, long walk in the woods…

Looking all Lion King in his winter coat

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IMG_1011IMG_1013IMG_1014Mufasa came into our lives the way many dogs do.  He needed a home.  When I married at 30 I wanted the whole Norman Rockwell image of the American family instantly – the husband, suburban home, fence, yard on a park with a neighborhood school, kids and a dog.  I got all of it within one month.  And a new job, too. (Fight the urge to exclaim, “What were you thinking?”)

A couple of weeks after the wedding I had an interview at a high-tech company in Boulder.  It was just down the street from the Humane Society.  Since it was on the way home and now I had a fenced yard, I thought I’d just stop by and look.  Note to self: Do not stop by to look at the puppies in Boulder, Colorado in summer if you are not chock full of willpower or some other really good reason for not getting one… unless you’re actually ready to have a puppy.

Boulder’s is a no-kill shelter with a 100% adoption rate, so people actually drive to other parts of the United States to get puppies and bring them there.  That’s what happened to Mufasa. His was a litter of eight puppies.  Six looked like tiny German Shepherds, one was a light brown ball of fur with white marks and then there was a puppy like an oversized cotton ball with brown spots and little clawed feet sticking out.  Clearly a paternity test was in order.  Mufasa, as the nice women there named him, was the cotton ball with freckles.

He was sound asleep wrapped around two of his siblings.  There was a waiting list three deep for him, he was so cute.  He was perfect.  I had to put my name down.  I wrote our new number quickly, not thinking I’d hear back.  My husband didn’t really want a dog.

They called.  We went to meet him.  My husband was skeptical.  It was clear no one had any idea what kind of dog this would be (Maybe Saint Bernard? Akita?).  He was extremely young (maybe six weeks old) and barrel-chested. His eyes were still blue.

“How big do you think he’ll get?” my husband asked as we walked down the long corridor toward the back of the building.

“About a hundred pounds,” the young woman said.  She was holding him flat on his back with his spotted belly pointed straight up toward the roof.

“Well, what if he turns out to be a kind of dog we don’t want, or really ugly…”

“Puppies this cute,” she said as she opened the door to the bright Boulder sun, his four tiny legs splayed toward the sky, “do not turn into ugly dogs.”

We put Mufasa down in the grass and watched him waddle off.

“Let’s be clear,” my husband said.  “The dog is yours.”

She showed us he was extremely easy going; we could do anything to him and he didn’t care.  The woman explained that would be important since he’d be gigantic.  She said we’d be required to go to puppy classes because he’d get big fast and would be a lot to handle, especially for my six-year-old stepson.

She had no idea.  She could not have known that he would eat everyone’s stocking candy his first Christmas morning, metal wrappers and all.  She could not have known about the morning Mufasa decided he’d like bacon and eggs for breakfast too and proceeded to climb up onto his lap and eat my stepson’s entire meal right off his plate on the kitchen table.  She could never have imagined that he would eat half a pan of chicken enchiladas (someone else made and brought), carving his claws into the middle of the formal dining room table during a party. He was a growing boy and to this day loves food.

And that was all before he hit the road.  Mufasa’s World Tour has entertained elderly residents in retirement communities in Florida, schoolchildren in a gym in Nashville and hotel guests across two continents.  Planes, trains, automobiles, ferryboats, funiculars, cable cars… Mufasa’s done them all.

Raising and travelling with Mufasa has taught me a lot about life.  He knows what’s important (the next meal, enjoying the moment, sloppy kisses) and what isn’t (maintaining one’s dignity and looking good at all costs).  He knows to hang on and enjoy the ride.  Certain things, Mufasa is clear, warrant a quick escape.  If someone’s after you, by all means, turn, tuck tail and run.

“What would Mufasa do?” has become a good, all-purpose question.  It will serve you well.

This post is in honor of Sydney, Mufasa’s sister, who died this week. Mufasa was curled up with her the first time I saw him. My best friend Beth adopted her. We took them home together ten years ago this summer.

Mufasa cute baby

Mufasa babyMufasa baby 1Mufasa baby 2