Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Breaking Up with IKEA

It has been mentioned (by me, numerous times) how expensive pretty much everything in Switzerland is.  I see it as three levels of pricing. 

The first tier is for the über-wealthy, those clients my husband calls “ultra high net wealth”.  Typically trust fund babies or successful entrepreneurs, they purchase their furniture in little boutiques off of Bahnhofstrasse – beautiful, bespoke pieces that only look better after years of wear, when the patina of quality seeps out and it molds to your body like butter.

The second tier is typically composed of those who work for the first tier.  These people might be hipsters, scouting vintage pieces in Kreis 5 (the artsy district of Zurich) or hitting Redbox (not a movie dispenser), the Swiss equivalent of Restoration Hardware.  The furniture is solid and unique, but you also pay a small fortune for the gallery and name.

And then there is my tier.  I believe this tier makes up the majority around these parts.  We are a hodge-podge sort of crowd, picking up deals when we can, passing pieces among the ex-pat crowd and knowing that sometimes, when you just want new pillows to change your mood, IKEA works well enough. 

I’m not ashamed, I’m proud of what we’ve created for our home.  Our home is a combination of beautiful, solid (American-made) items like our beds and couch, IKEA pieces, IKEA hand-me-down pieces, and maybe a leather couch we found by the dumpster.  Maybe. 

Anyway, all of that to say there are a lot of people in the third tier.  And it seems like the entirety of them are at the Dietlikon IKEA on Saturdays.  That’s a lot of divorces happening at once. 

To avoid meeting that many people at such a dark time of their lives, I ventured to IKEA on a Thursday morning, by myself.  Armed with an IKEA card and a list, I left home confident that I would conquer the day.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, namely, an accident on a two-lane highway and then construction on a two-lane road, my 38-minute drive turned into 110 minutes. 

“But c’mon,” I told myself, “you have plenty of free time now and think about all the voice exercising you just did, singing your entire Broadway repertoire.”

I was not going to let anyone, especially me, ruin my IKEA Adventure Day.

I walked in the store, settled in with a doughnut and cup of coffee and immediately started texting mr. shoe questions about his parts of the list, questions I probably should have asked earlier, but so what…I had time. 

The (first) problem with IKEA is the arrows on the floor.  Look, I get that we need guidance to get through the behemoth of Expedits and Lilenhämers and Flurgs, but sometimes you need to go back to the Expedit with the display model of the Kompartment and see if it fits.  And when you do that, you are immediately judged by those passive aggressive customers that look to the ground arrow, look back at you and your cart, and make you weave in and out of office desks because they will not let you pass. 

I also could not lose two ladies and their screaming child.  No matter how many times I went backwards, I seemed to catch up with Terrible Tom and his Oblivious Au Pairs.  It’s like they had a tracking device on me at all times.  No matter how fast or how slow I went, Tom and his screams of “NEIN” were always beside me.

At this point I had been shopping for almost 4 hours and was about to do my own scream of “NEIN” when confronted with the choice of 3 different colanders for our guest apartment. 

Because I couldn’t possibly fit anymore in my cart, I followed the arrows to the checkout.  But not before facing my final challenge. IKEA cleverly puts their clearance items right about 20 yards before cashiers, meaning if you see something on clearance that you like, you’ve only got three choices, ditch the more expensive option near there, buy both or fight the arrows to return the more expensive item.  Knowing this, I typically ignore the small pieces like desk lamps or misfit espresso mugs, but as I turned the corner, I saw IT.  A three level tv stand! On wheels!  For only 40 francs!  Perfect for a guest apartment!  The problem was, I had a full cart and this was way too big to put into another cart.  But make no mistake, this clearance deal was going to be mine.  And it would be the cherry on top of my IKEA Adventure Day. 

Like a train t-boning a car in an action movie, I stuck the tv stand in front of my cart and pushed it sideways to the cashier stand.

And now we come to another IKEA problem.  When you start to put your items on the belt, you realize that you have more room at a QuikTrip counter to put your Big Gulp and Donettes.  Yet somehow you are supposed to fit the 291 items in your cart on this tiny thing BEFORE running to the other end and re-loading your cart in the EXACT same way you had it previously packed to ensure everything fits as the cashier is throwing your 1,000 napkins at you.  By this time, I was having a hot flash, stripped down to a t-shirt and doing my best, determined to get through this last hurdle before packing up my car in victory.

While getting the evil eye from the housefrau behind me with two candles (Um, lady, there are 4 self-check lanes to our left – check ‘em out fo yo self), I triumphantly pulled out my IKEA card to pay.  The cashier looked at the name and looked at me.  In Swiss-German, she asked if I was “John”.  I said that it was my husband.  She said more, but it was too fast and too Swiss for me to follow.  In high German I apologized and asked if she spoke English.  I got the typical “bah” as a response so I gave her my residence card / ID card.   She looked at it, looked at me and ran the credit card.  That’s right, she ran the credit card after looking at my ID.  I was in the clear…or so I thought. 

When I went to sign the receipt, I made the mistake of signing my own name.  That’s when she went ballistic.  There were calls over the loudspeaker, Housefrau Who Won’t Use Self-Check stormed off in a flurry of what I assume were insults and I’m standing there in total confusion.  I asked again if she could call someone who spoke English when a Customer Service representative walked up.  I gratefully asked if she spoke English, only to find out that when she said “very little”, she was the only person in all of Switzerland who literally meant “very little”. 

I explained the situation as best I could in German and English.  She asked if I wanted to use another card and I said “no”.  The whole point of shopping at IKEA with an IKEA card is to earn discounts and use their rates.  I didn’t want to use another card. I argued that my home address was on the credit card and MY HUSBAND was the credit card holder, but she wouldn’t budge.  I asked to call the HotLine and add myself to the account immediately but wasn’t allowed.  I volunteered to open my own card, but she said there wasn’t time.

At that point I was so angry and so red – both means tears for me. (I was also so hot, but I’d already stripped down as far as was allowed.)  I wanted to just walk away, but I thought about all the stuff I had gotten for our home office and how John was excited to get organized and how hard it had been to pack the stupid cart and how long I had taken to choose the items I had and I said “fine, whatever, I’ll pay another way.”  I thought this would solve the problem.  Silly girl, this is IKEA. 

I was taken to Customer Service, dragging a cart and a tv stand, where they made me UNPACK my shopping cart so that she could return every single item by hand.  At that point she had taken a nicer approach and after a conversation with a co-worker that I could only half-follow, and her asking for my address and phone number, I thought she had changed her mind.  Nope, once we got everything scanned for return, she hands me the return receipt and says, “Go back to cashier.  Pay there.”  So, PACK THE CART AGAIN, UNPACK IT FOR SCANNING AND THEN PACK IT AGAIN TO LEAVE.

With my head held high, I looked at her, mustered every ounce of kindness in me and, in the wise words of Terrible Tom said, “Nein.  Danke.”

I went out to the car and cried. Hard.  I was tired.  I was angry.  I was frustrated at my lack of language skills. I had been terminated from my job that week, but IKEA is what blew me up.  Seriously?!  Why?  For stuff?!

I sat there and thought about the stuff in the cart.  It was stuff.  Yes, there were useful stuffs, and cute stuffs, but it was stuff.  And if we came back and got that stuff or never saw that stuff again, it just stopped mattering. 

I’m not going to lie.  Mr. shoe and I returned on Friday night to get the stuff.  It wasn’t quite as fun to put the pillows in the cart.  Getting the right colander no longer flummoxed me. 

We came home and put together our guest apartment and it looks nice.  But what makes me excited is the idea of the guests, not what they see in the apartment.  I want to see the people, not the stuff.

If I stay in the third tier of shoppers, I have way more than I need.  Sadly, I have more than most of the world.  I want to get past wanting stuff.  Maybe this trip to IKEA finally caused a divorce within me.  I don’t want to be that person who thinks the bird pillows are necessary for a happy life.

I guess I've got some stuff to deal with. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

40 for 40 (my apologies to ESPN)

I turn 40 years old this weekend.  I cannot lie, this weirds me out a little bit.  To soften the blow of my rapid aging, I have decided to focus on some of the things I've learned in my 40 years on earth.  Please do not misunderstand me - learning, knowing and doing are very separate stages. I've learned these 40 things. Unfortunately some are still not my natural reaction or first thought, but I keep on trying with every lesson. So maybe that's my "one to grow on" - keep trying.  
  1. There are too many books, too many stories and too many authors in the world to keep reading one that isn't grabbing you simply because it is popular.
  2. God is good.  All the time.
  3. Painted fingernails make me feel feminine.
  4. Be loyal, but not blind.
  5. Yes, people pay to dye their hair red, but that doesn't make you feel better until you are in your 20s.
  6. It is ok to be wrong, but admit it when you are.
  7. When you are at a low point, it isn’t the advice or the bible verses or the clichés that are immediately soothing - it is the person who sits beside you (literally or figuratively) and quietly cries with you that starts to heal your soul.
  8. Count Chocula is the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  9. I would rather be healthy than thin, but if I’m honest, I’d like to be both.
  10. Count Chocula will not aid me in being healthy or thin.
  11. Stacy Welter’s dog bites when you get in his face. 
  12. Rabies shots hurt.
  13. Dewar’s is pronounced “do-ers”, not “de-wars”.
  14. The best moments in life are rarely planned in advance; surviving the worst moments in life cannot be planned in advance either. 
  15. Shampoo.  Rinse.  Do not repeat.
  16. Your parents’ religion will not always be your own, but their faith can be.
  17. Drinking water during a fast doesn't stop your hunger, just your thirst.
  18. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you've wasted everyone’s time, including your own.
  19. If my sunglasses cost more than $10, I should not take them to the tennis court.
  20. Add pasta to boiling water, potatoes to cold water.
  21. Take the sleeping pill only after the plane has taken off.
  22. I know I will never fully know the sacrifices my parents made for me.
  23. Look for the good.
  24. The ocean is my therapy.
  25. Tattoos are addictive.
  26. Your family is your family is your family.  They love you.  You love them. Everything else is irrelevant.
  27. Sometimes cheap ice cream is just as delicious as expensive ice cream.
  28. Everyone should have one summer in their life where they work a maximum of 3 hours a day, play sand volleyball a minimum of 4 hours a night and spend the rest of the time sleeping and swimming.
  29. No matter how good-looking, if a guy screams when a snake crosses his path, he immediately loses his appeal. 
  30. Someone somewhere may not like you.  Get over it.
  31. Being a bronzed goddess is never going to happen for me.
  32. If you haven’t worn something for two years, donate it.  Except Birkenstocks.  Those stupid things keep coming back around.
  33. There are a few truly worthy things to argue about in marriage.  Most everything else is about finding a compromise. Learning the difference is called “communication.” 
  34. You do not instantly gain communication skills with the exchange of vows.
  35. Only my family gets to make fun of my family. 
  36. Strawberry seeds are not poisonous. 
  37. Less talk, more action.
  38. If you have to look online to remember if women have an adam’s apple, you probably have a tumor in your throat.
  39. I've been alive for 40 years.  If I have a feeling in my gut, an intuition, a first impression or a sense of unease, it needs to be given serious consideration. But people and situations always deserve a measure of grace to change my original impression.
  40. Even cute, hip knick knacks have to be dusted. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

time keeps on ticking...

There is snow across the lake from me.  It is in the mountains and even the lower hills.  A coat is now required daily.  It is time for gloves, but I stubbornly deny it, jamming my hands in my pockets instead.

It is November 15.  How?!  It seems like I was just celebrating my birthday on a beach, wondering how long I could stand the heat.  August, September and October are a blur.  There was a surgery to remove the tumor in my throat and half my thyroid along with it.  There was a 3 credit hour class to move a little closer to my degree. There were never-ending rehearsals for a community theater show Don't Dress for Dinner.  There was a business trip to Boston and a 48 hour trip to Kansas City to hug my family.  There was mr. shoe's birthday and our wedding anniversary. 

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind.  Get up, go to work, go to the theater, do a show, catch a late train, get home, do my homework, wash an inch of makeup off my face and a half can of hairspray and wax out of my hair.  Crash into the pillow.  Drift off to sleep in the midst of a prayer of gratitude for the strength to get through the day...and for Nespresso. 

I'm glad I did this show.  I met some great people, built some much-needed confidence in my expat world and tackled something new.  But I am ready to find my normal again.  I've missed reading.  I've missed eating real dinners while the pups beg me for scraps.  I miss blogging. I've missed evening wogs (walk/jog) with mr. shoe. 

So here's to the sacrifices we make to shake up our routines.  May we always find the strength to enhance our lives, to learn something new.  And may we always find joy in every season, no matter how quickly it goes by.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I had a biopsy last Wednesday.  

For 7 days, I've been in suspended animation, not intentionally, but every time I would make a plan or schedule something in my head, I subconsciously thought, "assuming...."  If Surprisacation was a lesson in losing control over all the little details, the last week has been a 7 day final exam. 

The first couple of days were easy.  I think I was more relieved that having a biopsy needle poked into your neck wasn't as horrifying as it sounds.  Don't get me wrong, I had my eyes closed from the moment the doctor confirmed that he was going to stick a large needle into my neck until the moment he confirmed that the needle had been removed from the exam room.  mr. shoe had gone with me to hold my hand, but the doctor made clear that he didn't have the ability to focus on fainting spouses while poking the large needle in my neck and I wasn't going to argue with the man that would be poking my neck with the large needle. Did I mention the large needle in my neck?  (Not that I saw it.)

The weekend was a little bit tougher.  I was tired and sluggish, making my head go into overdrive.  Was I tired and sluggish because the tumor in my neck was bad?  Was I tired and sluggish and that's just the way it was going to be from now on?  Was I tired and sluggish because my body had already given up now that one part was "down"?  The reality is, I was tired and sluggish because I'm out of shape and have been eating like crap for the last two four weeks.  But I wasn't going to let reality crowd out my over-active imagination.  No way.  Pour me another full-strength Dr. Pepper and pass the left-over bacon.  Momma's gettin' her pity party on.

I try not to be what I call a "lottery Christian".  You know the type - if I believe in God, my bills will all be paid and I will never be sick again!  And my car will miraculously start!  And I will no longer have cookie cravings!  I don't believe that Christians are exempt from anything - heck, I think we have a responsibility to shoulder our burdens in humility and grace, if only to attest that good can come from bad when we acknowledge our faith in God.

I find having faith to be easy, but completely trading fear in for that faith is tougher.  I reason that if I have them both at about a 60/40 split, I'll be ready for whatever gets thrown at me.  This is utter b.s. of course, but that doesn't really stop me from trying to find some control in there somewhere.  The truth is, God isn't "throwing" something at me to be controlled.  Life happened.  Original sin happened.  Free choice happened.  And God is in this with me, not lobbing cheap shots that sit on the net only to bounce over on my side while I sit on the baseline, knowing I have no chance of hitting it back.  He's not the omnipotent opponent, but the coach in my game, wanting to volley with me to improve my skills, not shove aces down my throat or tumors in my neck.  But I digress....(I just love a good sports analogy and obviously I love bad ones as well.)

So knowing that making deals with God wouldn't change the outcome of my test results, I found myself making deals with mr. shoe.  

"Ok, if everything is fine, AND IT IS, but when we find out everything is fine, I need to really kick my jalking (jog/walking) into high gear if I'm going to do a half-marathon in April."  

"Ok, once we know the results, AND I'M SURE THEY ARE FINE, but once we know, I'm really going to get back on track with eating healthy."  

I guess it wasn't bargaining, it was trying to convince him that he hadn't married a broken down woman whose warranty was only good for the first 7 years of marriage.  I also needed to hear him say "I will help with those things in any way I can"...and he did, because he knew.  

The last couple of days have been strange.  I've been calm about the results.  I've had a few anxious moments, but there hasn't been any hand-wringing or consuming fear or crying or standing in the shower under the hot water, trying to figure out who will take care of the dogs if I'm not here.  (I really watch too much television.)  In my head I had two scenarios and I prayed that I would stick to the script, regardless of the results.  

Today as mr. shoe and I walked to the hospital, we held hands as we tend to do.  I asked if I would have to become a meth kingpin if the tumor was malignant.  He answered that I'd have to take chemistry again, settling that debate once and for all.  I don't look good in a fedora anyway.  

The doctor didn't even wait for us to get out of our chairs.  He greeted us with a "Frau Shoemaker, GOOD NEWS!" while we were still in the waiting room.  He showed us pages of reports in German, but highlighted the phrase in bold caps "KEINE Bösartigkeit", "no malignancy".  It wasn't how I pictured it because all of the best and worst case scenarios never come to life the way you expect them to.  I didn't cry.  I didn't throw my arms around mr. shoe.  I sat there and silently prayed, "thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou for being here in this moment and all the moments that led to here."  I want to believe that I would have prayed that prayer even if the results had been different, but for today, I won't know what I would have done in that other scenario.  
All of us know that none of us have a guaranteed tomorrow.  This afternoon I'm thankful for this afternoon.  Tonight I'll pray for those who don't have their test results back yet and those who lived out their worst case scenario this morning.  May your faith outweigh your fear.

Not many people knew what was going on and to my family members who did not know, please accept this as my explanation. Feel free to be glad or offended that you didn't have to participate in the 7 day waiting game. I can handle it...now. It was a defense mechanism to avoid talking about something that was complete speculation at this point and also to avoid "helpful" stories about "so-and-so whose goiter eventually closed off their larynx and they were never able to sing again.  Hasn't heard his own voice for 73 years."  Selfishly, I couldn't take on worrying about other people's reactions or fears.  That might ring hollow now that I'm writing a blog post about it, but I've warned you - this blog is my therapy.  If it entertains, that is just a happy coincidence.  

Guess this means I need to put the cake away now and find my running shoes.  
Thank you anyway.


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