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 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.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part II

Had Surprisacation's story ended with me lying on the beach, the salt water working its magical destruction in my hair, it would have been everything I needed.  But let's be honest, I like to eat.  Starting a trend that would last throughout the entirety of our stay, I went from salt water to fresh water, threw on as little clothing as possible and popped in a ponytail.  A short walk down to the marina found us sitting outside of Pusser's Landing, a cold beverage and fish 'n chips in front of us.  Boats were pulling in after a long day on the sea, there was a local trio playing Michael Jackson and I smelled like Hawaiian Tropic.  Aside from mr. shoe's frequent bathroom trips, it was paradise.

Back at the villa, we unpacked and settled in for the week.  While putting away the groceries, I noticed the freezer wasn't working.  Having fully adjusted to a life without ice cubes, it was no big deal but we called the clubhouse to let them know in case the next guests weren't so "European".

Bed was calling our name, but mr. shoe was camped out on the patio reading so I laid down on the couch, letting the sounds of the water lull me to sleep.  It was shortly thereafter that the doorbell rang.  Assuming it was someone coming to look at the freezer (I'd been asleep, cut me some slack), I told mr. shoe that someone was at the door.  "So open it," was his loving(?) reply.  Dressed only in a swimsuit cover up that wasn't actually covering up a swimsuit and a head of hair that was having violent reactions to the humidity, I opened the door.  

The people standing in the door didn't care how I looked.  They never do.  They just stood there with their bags and screamed...I don't remember what they screamed, I just saw three people whom I love dearly, the ones mr. shoe calls "the gang", my "So You Think You Can Dance" crew, my besties.

They came inside in a flurry of bags and hugs and screaming.  Off came the zip tie on the extra bedroom door to reveal two beds and a cot.  Out came the Cheez-Its, Donettes and Skittles.  Around the kitchen table we landed.  Stories tumbled out - how long mr. shoe had been planning this, how Briggy was trying to text me on their layovers so I wouldn't wonder why she had fallen off the face of the earth as we made our way to Tortola, how mr. shoe's frequent trips to the bathroom were to answer Michael's urgent texts about their early arrival, how many flights my gang had taken from Chicago and Dallas and California to make my 39th birthday one to remember. 

The thing about good friends is well...everything.  

Still exhausted, I crashed hard that night, happy to the very tips of my toes.  When I woke up, mr. shoe smiled and said, "I had a weird dream last night.  We were in the British Virgin Islands then the gang showed up. It might have been a nightmare."  Like a cat, I stretched out in the sun that was shining through our patio, smiling because I knew it was true.

I can't tell you that our time together changed the world, but it changed my world.  Together with mr. shoe, these friends of mine......I just can't. 

We read, we swam, we kayaked, we snorkeled, we explored, we ate, we hunted seashells, we drank, we napped, we tanned, we pooled, we festival-ed.  We found empty beaches with turquoise waters and shady palm trees. We found caverns made from thousand year old volcanic rock and blue lizards.  We found rest and encouragement and laughter and confidence and strength in each other.  Some of us found sharks (supposedly), some of us found mysterious monsters in the moss that wanted to eat our feet (supposedly), some of us found a curious deep-seated need to skinny dip and I found at least five extra pounds (for reals).  

It was a gift and I'm not sure that mr. shoe will ever realize how thankful I am for it.

If you have the chance to make friendships that last decades, I highly recommend it.  I know there have been and will be times in our friendships that don't include fruity drinks and crystal clear waves and soft beaches.  I know that the dynamics will change as partners join in the circle.  But I fully expect to celebrate my 59th birthday on a beach in Tortola with those people.  

And this time, Tricia, we skinny dip.

Friday, August 16, 2013

surprisacation: part I

The ocean is loud.  It rolls and breaks and scatters.  But from the moment I can see it, it soothes and whispers and calms.  Unexpectedly finding myself on a beach for 8 days is like winning the lottery.  It is like being a celebrity and telling the world that I'm going into rehabilitation for exhaustion.  Thoughts are shut off.  Expectations disappear.  It's just me and whatever the water wants to tell me.

About 5 months ago my husband asked me to find 10 days of vacation near my birthday.  I was not given any details.  I didn't even know what to pack until the Monday before our Thursday departure and then I was only allowed to watch what mr. shoe packed.  

I told myself (and my parents) that if mr. shoe truly loved me I would find myself on a beach.  While destinations like Murmansk, Russia were floated around, I knew, believed, hoped that it would not be any place cold.  I hate being cold.  And let's be honest, I didn't go through my recent surgery to hide my "lights" under the bushel of parka.

I had a couple of Sherlock-ian moments that I'm proud of.  By turning in our GAs (train passes) the night before we left, I knew we wouldn't be traveling by train.  Also, we were having a friend stay at our place to watch our pups.  While we had discussed timing, we never discussed where I would leave the key.  Much like "Silver Blaze", one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, the lack of action was the clue:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
mr. shoe rebuffed me,  but sure enough, we got in the car early August 1st, only to drive to Leah's house so that she could act as our chauffeur to the airport.

If only I had kept all my thoughts to myself.  Had I done that, I might have known our final destination at our initial check-in.  But because I opened my big mouth and said, "You know they are going to hand us all of our boarding passes at once and tag our luggage", mr. shoe arrived at the airport with a hand-written note.  I never saw it, but it worked with every person who read it.  No one would say our final destination.  Board passes were handed over to mr. shoe who shoved them in his coat.  Once we got to our gate, I knew only that we were going to New York.  For 12 hours he pretended that NYC was our final destination, but once we cleared customs, he chucked our bags back on the belt and handed me a new boarding pass - this one to Puerto Rico. 6 hours later we landed and checked into the airport hotel with the promise that our resort would pick us up in the morning.

Now Puerto Rico is nice, except for the crime and sand fleas.  My law firm once sent me on a week-long, all-expenses paid trip to stand in front of a copier at a pharmaceutical company for 10 hours a day.  Luckily, the attorney in charge, me and our law clerk were sure to stay at a nice hotel and have breakfast on the beach every morning. But really?  8 days in Puerto Rico without being paid time and a half isn't my ideal vacation.  I'm told love is patient and love is kind.  It doesn't let its feelings be known over a chicken caesar wrap in the sad restaurant of the sad airport hotel at 10 o'clock at night.  It waits until it arrives at the resort and then checks the bed for sand fleas without mr. shoe knowing.

Jet lag had taken its toll in the night, waking us up around 3 am, so it didn't surprise me when mr. shoe said he was off to find a Starbucks after our 5 am breakfast the next morning. Once he returned we took a short nap, waiting for 8 am to roll around.  Stepping out into the humid air, we followed the "Ground Transportation" path through the airport.  When we reached the end of the path where taxis and shuttles and men in hawaiian shirts waved poster board names, we veered into an airline counter.  The representative would not say where we were going, simply that we were the only passengers on a 10-seater cessna.  Once again, mr. shoe had went ahead to make sure the drama was maintained until the very end.  At the boarding gate, they simply called out our name, not our destination.  Our pilot, Derek, hid the paper work and would only refer to "your destination".  

"Good afternoon.  My name is Derek and I'll be taking you to....your destination.  Our flight time to...your destination is about 30 minutes and the weather is perfect for flying.  Please keep your seat belt fastened until we reach....your destination.  We'll arrive in....your destination around 11:30."

Derek was pretty cool. 

Because mr. shoe loves me, the destination was not in Murmansk, Russia, it wasn't Puerto Rico.  It was Tortola, British Virgin Islands.  Tortola - my new favorite place. 

The water, my cleansing, soothing ocean appeared in colors I had only seen in postcards.  We arrived at our resort and was given a tour of our villa.  The manager had said we were upgraded, but that the second bedroom was closed off to save energy as only the bedrooms were air-conditioned.  He had even zip-tied the bedroom door to prevent me from stealing the extra towels and toiletries. 

We quickly changed into as little clothing as possible and walked down to the marina where we grabbed lunch and some grocery items.

I was in the water in no time.  The resort was pretty empty, August being the off-season for the BVI and I had no qualms about making the beach my own. I laid down on the sand and let the salt water wash off three flights, thoughts of work and the anxiety of not being in control.  The water, the warmest ocean tides I had ever felt, soothed as it always does, regardless of where it is.  I couldn't believe that mr. shoe had pulled it off.  Expectations were gone, having been exceeded hours ago.  I was in the water, on a beach for 8 days. I was in a country I had only heard of, but I was home.

happy birthday to me. 


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