Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Moving On

Have you ever stood in the middle of the road and looked ahead, not able to see the end, not able to see where it leads?  Have you ever been excited about that?

October 10 will be my 5 year Swiss-iversary. Exactly one month after that, me, Mr. Shoe and Auggie doggy will be moving to Singapore for our next adventure.

If you scroll back to the beginning of this blog, you'll find yourself reading about some of my darker days.  I always tried to give them an uplifting spin to keep my parents from worrying, but after a year or so, I knew I wasn't fooling them.

I can honestly say that moving here is one of the toughest things I've ever done in my life. It is also one of the things of which I am most proud.  These last 5 years have taught me lessons I needed to learn and lessons I had no intention of ever learning. It has stripped away everything I thought made me “me”, but what is left is authentic and hard-earned.

Before we moved here, I identified myself through my career.  I worked for a respected firm with attorneys who were recognized as the best in their field.  I worked all hours of the day and night.  I thought I was kinda a big deal.

I was married, but I was also independent.  I thought I needed to be self-sufficient and not "bother" my husband.  I wanted to be a perfect wife, perfect paralegal, perfect daughter, perfect Christian and perfect friend.  I wanted our home to be cozy, our lawn to look like our neighbors' and our driveway to have shiny, clean cars in it.  Essentially, I wanted my life to look perfect, if not be perfect.  Sometimes you can keep that facade up when you know your environment, know the temperament of the people around you and know how to say the right things at the right time, even if they are a total lie.  Anyone who has read this blog or knows me knows that I am not perfect. I tried for a long time and sucked at it.

Moving to Switzerland under the impression I could fake it here too was a total disaster.  I found myself in the darkest place I had ever been and I stayed there.  For way too freaking long I stayed there.  If I found English-speakers I just used the time to complain, to see how they dealt with the Swiss people and the Swiss culture.  I have written about this before; in a time when I needed to be making friends in the worst way, I was draining everyone I met with my negativity.  I couldn’t pretend things were perfect, I couldn’t even pretend things were acceptable.  My independence vanished, locked up by my insecurities. It was a lonely time made more so by the disconnect I had created between myself and mr. shoe.

But in that loneliness, the facade of perfection was stripped away slowly and painfully, each new lesson revealing to me something I needed to learn or give up or decide to change. Each situation showing me that the only one who had believed the fake version of myself was me.  The reminders continue to this day.  Even now I have re-read this post 4 times to be sure I’m not faking anything, not pretending there is growth that hasn’t happened, but conceding that growth doesn't stop when you feel like it should be done.  It continues, a result of being stretched and surviving.

There were many times that I contemplated going home, being done with the lessons, declaring that I had given it my best effort and all that but I never felt "released".  I felt like God had/has me in this place where His was/is one of the few voices I understood. But man, He didn't/does not make it easy.

After about 3 years of living like this, I slowly began to see things I loved about Switzerland.  Things that had been hard were less hard. The Swiss culture that left me feeling so hurt became something I could see past and shrug off easier. The silences became restful and not oppressive.  Ironically this new perspective came at about the same time that I started dealing with a crushing bout of clinical depression.  I had finally found peace in Switzerland when I learned that the brokenness was rooted in me, not the country I lived in.

It was in the midst of this that we found out we would be moving to Singapore.  I admit that my initial response was "um, WHAT?"....or maybe that was Brigit yelling in my ear since I found out while we were in London, but she was only echoing my original thought.  After a few days to soak it in (and to read Wikipedia and to take my meds) I started seeing the good things this move could bring.

We would be moving to a land where English is one of the national languages.  I would have a broader field of jobs to choose from. There would be no more winters to suffer through.  DAYLIGHT SAVINGS DOES NOT EXIST IN SINGAPORE. But you know what does exist in Singapore? Krispy Kreme.

Everything seems easier this time.  I know I don't, can't even, pack up a single item myself.  I know that we will be living in a serviced apartment when we arrive, meaning we get to pick out our home after actually having seen it. (Also meaning I know we will have daily house-keeping for the first month.) I know that sticker shock will be more tolerable. (HELLO, cheaper Starbucks.)  I know that it will suck saying good-bye to my family and friends in the States again and it will suck saying good-bye to the friends I have here.

And I know that it won’t be perfect. There will be culture shock.  I will need to make new friends. Things will get messed up in the move.  I will get short-tempered with mr. shoe and he with me. But knowing that all of these things can’t be controlled brings me peace. It means that there is no way I can expect perfection, nor is it expected of me.

That’s how I know this move is different. I’m not panicked anymore, I’m excited.  Discussions with mr. shoe haven’t been based in apprehension, but in anticipation.  Together we get to pick a new home and start anew in a new place.  I get to be a more positive, confident “dependent” wife - that’s what attached spouses are called and I’ve stopped being annoyed by the title. See, baby steps to positivity.

So let the “last times” begin.  Let the sentimentality of leaving beautiful Switzerland remind me that, while at times it felt like this place broke me, it only bent me.  I broke me. And I get to choose what pieces to keep and what pieces to toss out.

I get to leave the baggage behind. There isn't going to be any room for it in the new place.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

High Speed Slow Going

When planning the last leg of our vacation, I had assumed we would take a flight from Paris to Zurich.  It takes about an hour, is pretty reasonably priced and would give me 2 entire days to show my friends my current home.  Instead, my pals wanted to take the high speed train.  To be completely honest, I was a little irritated. A 4 hour train ride, no matter how plush, is 4 hours of not roaming the streets of the Niederdorf and getting gourmet cupcakes while drinking espresso at an outside cafe.  I settled down when Mr. Shoe made the obvious observation that if this trip was about spending time with my besties, it didn't really matter what we were doing.  Train tickets were purchased.

Paris Gare de Lyon
Early Thursday morning we climbed aboard our train car, found our seats and settled in for the high-speed ride to Zurich.  I was getting excited to show Brig & M my Zurich.  Michael had visited me once, but it had been cold and rainy and I had just started a new job and couldn't spend much time as a tour guide.  This time it was going to be kinda sunny, kinda nice and I had kinda fallen in love with Zurich.  We would arrive at 11:26, plenty of time to see and do everything I had planned.

The beginning of the ride was uneventful.  We were served our breakfast, ate our candies and started editing our kazillion pictures. A little napping happened, a little bit of reading, a little bit of watching the world fly by. 

Brigit was excited.
At one point the train slowed, eventually making an unscheduled stop in a tiny village.

I played it cool for the first 20 minutes, but inside getting a little bit more agitated with every minute that was being stolen from our Zurich escapade.  After 45 minutes, we broke down and asked what was going on.  Evidently a train was on the same track, headed our way.  They stopped it before they got close to us, but neither train was close to a track switch or could back up.  We were in the middle of a Mexican stand-off in France.  So we sat for another 45 minutes.  By this time there were people milling on the platform, business men fuming, families trying to control impatient little ones and
harried train stewards answering the same questions over and over.

It was announced that tour buses had been ordered to get us to another train station.  This would have been easy enough to work with but like us, most everyone on the train had at least one piece of luggage.  Some waited more patiently than others while luggage was haphazardly tossed into the undercarriages and more buses were ordered for the crowd.  For some indescribable reason, our bus was not moving.  The one thing I had been completely confident about, Swiss transportation, was not living up to its reputation.

Slowly we pulled away from the train station.  Slowly we winded our way through the villages.  Slowly we made a couple of stops to let people off and slowly get their luggage out of the bus.

We finally arrived at a random train station that would get us to Bern where we could catch another train to Zurich, but this random little train was quite the experience.  Due to the tight connection time, we weren't able to re-establish our cushy 1st class seats.  The car we ended up in had no air-conditioning, was over capacity due to our crowd and had an unexpected group of protestors.  Trying to find a seat wherever I could, I sat down next to some older women.  I was immediately asked to move.  This was the wrong time for some Swissy to be rude to me.  I told her "no, I have a ticket for a seat and I'm going to sit."  She told me that I would not be happy with her crowd...well, I have to give it to her, she was right.

As soon as the train pulled away, our car became the latest scene for the People's Power Revolution Part Deux.  Imagine about 15-20 people learning their protest chants.  English rhymes were learned, beats and timing established and passion ignited.  Security guards attempted to quiet them down, but it didn't work. Wanting to make sure they covered the entire spectrum, FIFA, Israel and Lyndon B. Johnson were just some of the subjects for these intense protestors. I tried to catch Brigit and Michael's eyes, but couldn't see them.  Luckily they had video of it all.  Unluckily none of us can find that now, but take my word for it, it was a memory.

(Ed. note: Luckily, Michael DID get video.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Parisian Fairy Tale

(All photos taken from the explorers' combined 800 picture album.)

Once upon a time three friends made a journey to a different world.  On the wings of metal birds, they traveled far away to see an exotic place where people spoke a different language, ate (kinda) different food and paid nonsensical prices for stuff.

The strangeness of this land surprised two of the three friends.

The three friends fearlessly attempted to integrate with the villagers by staying amongst them. People in this place lived in secret alleyways so small that the electric horse carriage had to dump them a block away from their resting spot. While looking for their temporary lodging, they realized they had walked past it 4 or 5 times due to the fact that it looked positively post-apocalyptic.  This was the door to their magical apartment…

but much like a Russian doll, yet another door was opened to them.  Or not.  These doors were so fully protected by a security spell that it took all three of them to open AND close the cursed doors…each time.

Their little hobbit hole was as cold as eating ice cream in an igloo on an iceberg…

though one of them felt it was as hot as Donna Summer singing on top of a stove in the desert.
("Hot Stuff", get it?  BTW, M was too indecent to take a picture.)

Once they had refreshed themselves in the tiny bathroom made for an actual hobbit, they searched for a means to explore this new horizon.

Once aboard their blue beasts, they ventured far and wide.  One of the friends unexpectedly tasted the forest floor when she didn’t quite make the curb jump.  One of the friends found joy in repeatedly ringing the chimes of the beast.  (Never let Brigit near a bell.  NEVER. EVER) And one of the friends led the party in their explorations because he is such a butt-kisser he never left the tour guide’s side.

For the next 4 hours, though their behinds were numb within 5 minutes, our intrepid travelers saw many secret treasures, never seen before from anyone outside the village.

During the travels, they also found a pop-up hardware store.

 One friend hated to see so many locks being used in such a careless way.

Sustenance was needed if the friends were to continue on.  Luckily they happened upon a kindly couple who scooped up a sweet cream that came from golden cows.  These cows had names like Nutella, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Brownie and Mango and their sweet cream came shaped as a flower.

With fairy sugar rushing through their veins, they climbed aboard the blue beasts for more excitement.

They found the burial grounds of the original French hobbit, Napoleon Bonaparte.

They found the holy grounds dedicated to the Creator.

And even the very center of this humble village.

Not all of the villagers admired the spirit of these three friends and a few dirty looks were given.

But other villagers were walking on air to think they could share their talent for free. (cough, cough.)

When the feet of our weary travelers became too sore to carry on, they found other hospitable means to continue the journey. (No tickets were lost this time.)


Many of the secret spots they had ridden past before now loomed large. One such place tried to freeze the friends in a time warp with the intention of having them emerge years older.

Fortunately the friends were too wise to fall into this trap.  With their freedom and fortune firmly in hand, they were able to walk away from the diabolic wormhole and hop back on the Big Bus of Safety. 

And when the bus made the friends a little crazy...

...they took to the sea.

Enjoying the fresh smells of the pristine waters, our travelers were able to see the village from a whole new perspective.

The cuisine brought tears to the eyes of the friends. Its simplicity and layered flavors were unlike any other and will be remembered on the cold, dark nights that lie ahead.

 After a final attempt to share the joyfulness of the village with their friends in other lands, it was time to go home.

This new world had pleased the friends and opened their eyes to a culture not their own, leaving each friend to explore their internal emotions about leaving this fairy tale. In the end, it was something to call home about. 


(OK, those were from London, but they made me laugh.)

Join us tomorrow for the exciting conclusion...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Seeing Clearly in London

When we moved to SwissyLand, everyone talked about how centrally located it was, how we could reach Paris and Munich and Madrid and Milan without ever catching a plane.  To be honest, we went to quite a few places, but when you live on a lake with a mountain view, it seems kinda silly to go somewhere 4 hours away to see a lake or mountains or hang out with different Europeans. 

Just like Paris, I can spend a day in Geneva and have the same great food, the same fun French conversations and get the same energy one gets from the French – all without having to endure the second-hand smoke.  Just don’t buy a club sandwich.

Missing Milan? Take a train to Lugano in Ticino where Italian is the sole official language, they have double the sunny days than Zurich, incredibly delicious red wines and the only celebrity that matters (George Clooney) within spitting distance.

Madrid?  Is that in Portugal?

My long winded point is this – living in Switzerland is pretty cool and it takes something special to make a journey elsewhere.  But when that “special something” is named Brigit and Michael?  Well, that is worth getting out the passport.

One Friday we were discussing possible dates and by Saturday we had planned an entire trip in about 3 hours of texting.  Our plan was to meet in London, go to Paris and end up in Zurich.  While Brigit was on shopping duty with her mom, she, Michael and I made an itinerary, booked plane tickets, booked train tickets and made hotel and Air BnB reservations.

The best part was that our travels plans were only a month away.  The countdown was on.

Meeting up at the airport sounded easy enough.  We failed to consider that it was Heathrow Airport. After an hour wait in the passport line (I thought we had a “special relationship”, England?), we played a high tech version of Marco Polo. A picture sent, a picture received. When I finally found my Polos, they were sitting on the floor, blitzed from the international flight and having pack-muled a lot of stuff for the Shoemaker household (and my closet).  I made the mistake of trying to pick up Brigit’s backpack and suffered an immediate herniated disc or 12.  A quick Heathrow Express and we were downtown. 

Michael was kind enough to use up a stupid amount of loyalty points to get us a hotel on the Thames, straight across the bridge from the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben.  Getting across the Westminster Bridge was a game of playing “Dodge Sticks”, trying to be courteous enough to not get in other people’s picture, but then realizing that the use of a selfie-stick requires way more space than we could afford to give if we weren’t going to get ran over by double decker buses.  Somewhere right now, people are wondering who the blonde is photo-bombing their vacation. 

After checking into the awesome London Marriott Hotel County Hall way early, they let us ditch our bags and freshen up in the spa. In a flash we hit the streets. This would be a reoccurring theme during the week.  I have never spent a week of vacation getting up earlier than I do on work days, but there was too much to see, too much to do.  I had forgotten the urgency you feel to soak it all up when you’ve traveled 5,000 miles to get somewhere.  Best of all, if I was awake I could hang out with two of my besties.  That was almost a good enough reason to get up at 4 a.m. to catch planes and trains all week.

I’ve been to London a handful of times and apart from seeking out Chipotle, it has always been about being in the thick of the locals, getting to Banana Republic and T.K. Maxx (not an error) and roaming aimlessly while Mr. Shoe is at work or in a conference.  This was not one of those trips. Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the West End, Covent Garden, Hyde Park – no famous spots would go left unseen by our eyes.  We bought tickets to one of the “hop on, hop off” double-deckers, the perfect touristy way to get around. We listened to the guides spill random facts and flat jokes.  We heard more than we would ever need to know about Sweeney Todd.  Up until I lost my ticket, we hopped everywhere.

Having a bus waiting for us at practically every corner was too much fun and crazy easy. Primarily because I found myself doing something really annoying on this trip – acting like I knew things and where these things were located.  Maybe it was my medicines, maybe it was this awkward season in my life, but I was anxious and my anxiety was making me more anxious.  Brig and Michael travel together a lot and I spent way too much time on focusing how I would fit into the travel scheme as opposed to focusing on just being with my friends.  (Why yes, I am inside my head a lot lately.) I wanted this to be the perfect trip for M &B and took this stupid responsibility on that no one had asked me to shoulder.  I don’t think I fully grasped how to shut up when I wasn’t sure of something until we arrived in Zurich and by then, I did actually know stuff. Luckily, M & B know me and love me and didn’t beat me when I was wrong. Wait, there were a few punches to the leg…

But I digress, I will never not take a double-decker bus again if they are available to me.

After the Great Ticket Debacle, we walked. Brigit got her fish 'n chips, I got my guacamole 'n chips and Michael got his Cokes. We walked and walked, discovering things not on our bus routes, like the Westminster Equestrian Ring, artistic window displays and random alleys that turned you out at David Cameron's house. We ducked into pubs that delivered your food by dumbwaiters (the pulley system, not dumb people who wait on you).  We ate burgers and fried pickles at a place decorated as a butcher's walk-in freezer.  We drank coffee at a cool place called "Starbucks."

Over here, Michael
We saw the Westminster Bridge set up with lights and cameras for the new Bond movie, but didn't see Daniel Craig.  In the hours of Brigit's jet lag, she was lucky (?) enough to see the bridge on fire for the car chase.  I was lucky (?) enough to be asleep with the latest in white noise, the Schnetzer Noise Machine.

On our last day in London, we walked about 50 feet from our hotel and bought the Fast Pass to the London Eye. (Fast Pass for the win!)  We were able to see where we had been and what was left to find.  That ride cemented that I was a tourist.  Unless I faked a bad British accent, they were going to peg me for being one anyway, might as well embrace it. That Tuesday morning I realized I had to stop trying to be something I am not. I am not a London expert.  I do not know the Underground as well as I thought. I can get lost walking out of a Chipotle.  But man, once you acknowledge that, you find a contentment. Your shoulders are no longer carrying a Mini Cooper on them.  The elephant sits up and gets off your chest. 

Maybe more awesome is that you begin to realize what you are.  I’m a daughter, a wife and a friend.  And in that movement in time, I had been given 5 more days to be a friend to two of my favorite people in the world, who just so happened to be right beside me.

That was the best reason to get outta SwissyLand.

Tomorrow….more trip, less "I".


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