life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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It’s about the adventure

In my life after being a park ranger, I have become a kind of Renaissance woman, cobbling together a humble living as an editor, yoga instructor, and songwriter (the latter has been mostly pro bono since moving to Belgium). Editing tends to be slower in the summer, as the bulk of my work comes from students during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year.

 

To keep myself busy, I pore over animal adoption sites in search of a dog I might be able to convince my husband to let me bring home. I study texts about philosophy and the path to enlightenment, I practice handstands at the wall, and I go for walks. I also do a lot of writing.

 

Since we are on a limited budget with my work being part-time and even less than that during the summer months, I have also begun researching different foods that I would like to be able to eat but cannot really order at restaurants, essentially because we don’t ever go to restaurants in order to save money. My most recent epiphany was that I should try to make dim sum. This revelation came when our favorite couscous stand was absent from the Sunday market in Boitsfort, so we opted for Thai and Balinese. Both were super overpriced, which completely bummed me out. The Thai food was disappointing all around, especially toward the end when I found a hair in mine (this is never fun). My husband suggested that I pretend I didn’t see it, but I was not very successful in this endeavor. The dumplings from the Balinese stand cost 8 euros for four tiny morsels. The shrimp dumplings were amazing, but the friend sesame ones filled with red bean paste were pretty sad.

 

All told, we spent 7 euros for the sad Thai noodles, 8 euro for the dumplings, and 5 euros for two glasses of white wine. The wine won on all fronts.

 

Maybe, I could just figure out how to make the foods I love to eat? I suggested to my husband.

 

Go for it, he acquiesced.

 

Ok, so 20 euros on the Sunday market lunch was nothing when compared with the small fortune I spent at three different Asian markets and two western grocery stores this morning and afternoon. My morning trip was shared with all of the adorable, old ladies of Watermael-Boitsfort, who left their carts sitting in the middle of the aisles so it took me a while to wind my way from one end of the store to the other.

 

My day of adventuring began with a visit to an Optician for an eye exam. Learning about inner workings of the health care system in Belgium is also a challenge, particularly when French is not my native tongue. I had a lovely time visiting with the Optician and asking all kinds of questions about the machines and method he used, all the while trying to decipher the code and meaning of his explanations, which were, of course, all in French. It turned out that I had gone about the eye care process in reverse, as most people began with a visit to an Ophthalmologist to test for tension in the eyes, glaucoma, and an overall medical exam, which an Optician could not provide. (At least, the eye exam was free!)

 

Learning the ins and outs of a foreign culture is an exhausting adventure, which requires figuring out public transit systems, following maps to find venues that Google claims exist but in actuality have long since closed, and beyond. My stamina is not what it was ten more more years ago when I last lived in a foreign land; however, I somehow made it through an eye exam and a visit to five different grocery stores (the sixth had come up as an Asian market but did not look like through the windows, so I didn’t go in because at that point I was beyond exhausted). The final stop of my day was also the highlight. I found the Alimentation Asiatique and quickly befriended the owner.

 

His name was Wang, and he was delighted when I asked if he could help me find some items.

 

Do you like Chinese food? He asked me.

 

I do! And I love trying new things.

 

Then you must try the radish. I just opened some. You can try first before you decide to buy it.

 

He went into the back and brought out a pair of chopsticks and bowl of radish coated in something red, which looked spicy and dangerous for my sensibilities.

 

Can you use chopsticks?

 

I can, but I am not sure I hold them correctly.

 

I modeled my chopstick holding stance.

 

Good enough, he said. He was now speaking in English, explaining that he spent three years studying in New York. Apparently, most of the English speakers who came into the shop had British accents and had a hard time understanding his English.

 

I have a hard time understanding a British accent.

 

Me, too, but it’s so wonderful.

 

It is! I love British English accents, I agreed.

 

I gingerly picked up a piece of the radish, brought it to my mouth, and smiled.

 

It’s so good! Definitely spicy.

 

And it’s very cheap. Everything here is much less expensive than other places because we sell to restaurants.

 

He continued: Where are you from?

 

The United States.

 

Where?

 

Arizona, but I have lived all over. I started listed states on my fingers.

 

You are very nice. You smile all the time. I can tell it is because you travel a lot.

 

Well, not everyone who travels is nice.

 

True, but we can ignore the people who aren’t nice.

 

Yes, we can.

 

I went through my ingredients list, asking about different items. When I asked him if he had red bean paste, he lit up, handed me a can, and told me how his mom would put red bean paste into things she cooked as a treat for him when was a child.

 

We then spoke about our moms and how their cooking is wonderful and full of love.

 

My mom lives far away, so now I have to try cooking things myself, I said.

 

Wang was all about helping simplify my cooking experience. He suggested that I buy frozen dumpling wrappers and already made ravioli.

 

I explained that I really wanted to try making the recipes myself but that I would buy some ready made to put in the oven if I failed so I could pretend that I had made perfect ones.

 

When I asked about bamboo steamers, he said not to waste my money and drew me a picture for how I could put water in a pot and place another bowl inside, covering the pot so the boiling water would create vapors to steam the dumplings.

 

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Later in the evening, when I had spent hours attempting to make the ravioli with the flour I used because I couldn’t find wheat starch, I told my husband that I probably should have listened to Wang.

 

He laughed.

 

We had a good time trying everything. While the proverbial fruits of my labor were a far cry from the photos in the recipes online I had been following, I felt pretty good about my first effort.

 

It’s all about the adventure, my husband said. You should be getting out there, exploring and meeting people.

 

It’s true, I said. Thank you for braving my most recent adventure!

 

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Belgium or Bust

This past spring, my husband and I watched the first two seasons of the book turned film series Outlander. We had a running joke about the characters, most of who seemed to move between love, hate, and an intense enmity in quick succession.

Whenever we saw a scene with laughing that turns into sword fighting in the blink of an eye, we turned to each and say, I love you. I hate you. I will kill you!

The decision to turn our lives upside down to move to Europe for the next four years has inspired our own version of emotional turmoil, reminiscent of the Outlander series. There has been a lot of laughter, tears, and intermittent fits of screaming and expletives, and emotions seem to shift from zero to a hundred pretty quickly.

Waaaaaait a second. Hold up, you might be thinking right about now. Belgium? Where did this come from?

I realize that I have known for some time that the landscape has become Belgium, but in the tumultuous transition I have been experiencing these past few months, I have neglected to communicate the details to you.

So, please allow me to take a step back here and provide some context.

My husband and I got married in November 2015, not quite a year ago. Instead of traditional gifts, we asked for monetary contributions to help fund a honeymoon to France. We wanted to spend a few weeks taking a tour around the country by way of reconnaissance in case my husband’s sabbatical proposal to spend a year there would come through.

We are Francophiles. Independent of each other, we have been studying French and traveling to France for decades. Our mutual love of the French language was discovered within the first few minutes of our first meeting (or so a friend who was sitting near us has told us). The entire encounter is a bit of a blur to me now; something about love at first sight and time standing still, fireworks, and the like.

My husband (let’s call him R) has been sequestered in Prescott, Arizona for nearly 20 years. Now that his daughter is in college and his son has graduated and is pursuing a master’s degree, he is free to revisit the dream of his younger self to become an expat and live abroad.

Belgium was not the original destination my husband started musing over several months ago. It began with France. Well, to be honest, it began about ten years ago with the very tentative idea to pursue his own research and earn a PhD.

When I have an idea to pursue something, I typically dive right in. I am rather capricious that way. My husband is an Aquarius and tends to wallow in possible pursuits. He has also raised two children as a single parent, which can hinder a person’s ability to prioritize their individual desires. Kids come first.

I am in awe of anyone who follows the doctoral path while simultaneously trying to raise children and be part of a family. I may have worked full-time while working toward my own PhD, but the only other beings I was beholden to were my cats. They were pretty understanding of my need to spend hours at a computer, so long as they could take up residence on my lap.

Knowing the reality of what it means to pursue a PhD, part of me has been cringing ever since my husband made the decision to dive in full tilt into looking for the right PhD program. My husband, the Aquarian wallower, does nothing lightly. He began researching program, first in France and then around the world. He began researching the area of study he hoped to pursue.

R is a research librarian, and before long there were books piles on every available surface of our home. As he began to make connections with faculty in France, his research became more focused. Eventually, he found a global network of academics in the field of media ecology and honed in on a professor at a university in Brussels.

And so Brussels became yet another possibility in the growing number of places we might go. Metz, Nancy, Paris, Lille, Brussels. There was a program in Eugene, Oregon, but we had missed the scholarship deadline, and another in Toronto.

In this political climate, Canada was sounding pretty good, but I already had the taste of fresh croissant in my mind. I am not going to Canada, I snipped.

Having spent my life as what I now refer to as the path of the modern wandering Jew, I am fairly accustomed to putting down shallow roots everywhere I go because I know I will likely be coaxing those roots out of their cozy abode after only a short stay.

Wandering is one thing. I am used to it. With each change to the season, I can feel a deep desire to travel beginning to bubble up to the surface.

Limbo is another thing altogether. I have experienced limbo a lot in my life, and I don’t do well with it. I am not a patient person by nature, and the waiting game is not my cup of tea. So, I tried not to get too wrapped up in each possible new place we might go.

I want to be able to say that I did an ok job of staying sane and supportive during all of the limbo, but I believe in being honest. It has not been the best of times. It hasn’t been the worst, either, but I have not been the most grounded and mellow person these past several months.

I wonder if it makes a difference if I am the one to make the choice to move into a state of limbo rather than being on another person’s limbo ride, where I have less control over the journey and destination?

The jury is still out, but I will keep you posted.

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My fingernails preferred France

IMG_7431My hair did not like France. The water was very hard, and my thick curls were in a constant tangle. I finally figured out that I could rip through it with my comb while it was dry just before taking a shower, which minimized the frustration. Prior to that, however, I would basically threaten to cut it all off several times each day, much to the chagrin of my husband.

 

Don’t worry, I would tell him. I will make you a wig with my hair, and YOU can wear it if you love it so much!

 

He would just roll his eyes at me. Apparently, my threats were not as intimidating as I would have liked.

 

My fingernails adored France! In the united states, I have spent many years with my hands close to my face. Any slight anxiety or fear, a need for control in an otherwise unpredictable existence, it never took much to keep the habit going. I have always wanted to stop and periodically have had temporary success in doing so. I tried bad tasting nail police, gloves, brightly colored nail polish, the list goes on and on.

 

My greatest triumphs over the obsession were during my travels in Africa and Russia. There is nothing like traveling to a foreign land to create new behavior patterns. I have long since given up attempting new habits with New Year’s resolutions, but I have had much success in ceasing from biting my nails and picking at my cuticles when traveling. It just takes one cold to realize I probably should not be putting my hands anywhere near my mouth. Plus, with the colder weather in France while traveling in December and January, my hands spent most of their time in pockets staying warm.

 

My husband has attempted to correct this behavior in two languages, often blended into one.

 

Ne pick pas, he will say, and Ne mange pas, when he sees me going at it.

 

I have appreciated his efforts, though I am afraid it hasn’t done much good. It is such an engrained habit that I often don’t even realize I am doing it.

 

Somehow, I was able to cease and desist with regard to my fingernails. Even with my cuticle clipper disappearing with my shoulder bag when our car was broken into in a remote location in Provence, I kept quite vigilant in keeping my hands far from my face. Just one look at them, and it would take all of my control not to want to try to fix them, even though time and experience has told me that there is no fixing when it comes to nails and cuticles. Any attention beyond that of a professional manicurist typically tends to make them worse.

 

IMG_7381But France was good for my fingernails! It was the return home that has been the real challenge. Without the distraction of foreign architecture, croissants, birds, and all the pleasures of travel in my beloved France, I find it incredibly difficult to avoid my hands. They are always around, and if I take even one look at the state of my cuticles, it is next to impossible to keep myself from trying to fix them.

 

Just one little nibble and that’s it, I can hear a voice coax from within.

 

No! That’s how it starts, I plea.

 

Oh, come on. You have done so well. Why not reward yourself with a bite?

 

I tell my husband how much easier it was in France to outwit this habit.

 

Hm, he responds. I think it’s easy in Paris to have your attention focused outward, on all the exciting things around you. We were also constantly doing things. It’s that old phrase about it being easier to be human doings than human beings (I really don’t know if that is a phrase, but I’ve heard something like it before). However, back at home there is downtime. The external distractions are lessened and we find ourselves back with our selves. Without distractions, habits (like nail biting) are easy to slip into. We can use this as a flag in our meditation…whenever we fall into some habit that we wish to stop, we can use that as a flag to stop and be…and be okay with just being.

 

I know he is right. He is a wise one and has been my guide and guru for some time. Yet for just once, it would be nice to have it easy in this realm, but I will take all of the beauty and love that does seem to come so easily in exchange for the concerted effort and work in others.

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The whole galette

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For our honeymoon, my husband and I spent three weeks in France. We are true Francophiles and love everything French (well, maybe not everything but certainly most things).

For my first marriage, I had wanted to go to Paris on honeymoon, but my husband, a far crazier birder than me, wanted so desperately to go birding in Costa Rica that I just couldn’t say no. Being an enabler by training, I acquiesced, and we spent between 2-3 weeks getting up at 5am with the sunrise and birding until 5pm with the sunset. We experienced one attempted car break in, one flat tire, and saw over half of the species found in Costa Rica, thanks to our bird guide and friend, Nito, who we had met at the national park where we worked in the summers. I called the trip, “Our honeymoon with Nito.” We even managed to spend a few fabulous days with two friends who had sold their home to travel the world for a year. With Nito and our two friends, we walked up a winding road that led to a ranch on the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

We parked our car at an obliging woman’s home at the base of the mountain.

It’s not far, Nito had told us before we began the ascent, and he repeated this phrase for several miles and hours before we arrived in the rain close to midnight.

Inside, we sat on chairs fashioned from the cows the ranchers kept on their property, and they told us about hunting the jaguars that hunted the cows.

The reason I share this story is not to demonstrate how much of a pushover I can be for the people I love. More so, I wish to illustrate the kind of experience I seek while traveling. I want to journey beyond the surface, which can be difficult as a tourist, especially if you do not speak the local tongue. However, the more experiential travel can come with challenging packaging. which leads me back to my second marriage and second honeymoon. They say the third time is the charm, but I am hoping this one sticks.

We planned to faire un tour of France, making a circle by rental car that would begin and end in Paris. The trip began relatively without consequence. Procuring the rental car seemed to take much longer for us than all of the other French people, who seemed to walk in and out of the Hertz store within minutes. But finally, we were on the road and doing our best to navigate with a lagging GPS to get out of Paris unscathed.

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We made it to Bretagne and spent several days with friends from my time teaching English to elementary school students in Quimper ten years earlier. We journeyed south to Bordeaux, where the real fun began. While taking a shower, I slipped in the bathtub and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, my husband was nearby, grabbed my other arm to pull me up, and I was able to relocate (can one say this?) my shoulder. I say luckily as it was a Sunday, and the thought of trying to find a doctor was far from desirable. The cure for my first ailment? Drinking red wine and cognac from afternoon until night mixed with a little shopping.

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Bon.

We continued our journey, spending a beautiful day birding with an ex-pat British fellow who had come to France as a young adult to learn the language and had fallen in love with a Parisian woman (who wouldn’t?). the day was reminiscent of my first honeymoon with Nito, as our guide was set on finding as many species as possible and seemed to have an unending supply of energy with which to accomplish this task. Our final species was a little owl/chouette cheveche, seated atop a small chimney as the sky grew dark all around it.

Parking in Bordeaux was a miniature nightmare, and we were quite happy to quitte la grande ville pour le paysage encore (aka, we prefer the countryside to the city…typically, though our experience in Provence was to temporarily prove otherwise).

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A night in Rocamadour at a Bed and Breakfast run by a super friendly British fellow. So far, we were really enjoying the ex-pats. I knew something was up when he opened the door and was super excited for us to arrive. I thought, This guy is French? He’s so happy and expressive! Nope.

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Ailment number two came the next morning. We had a lovely breakfast, and I played a couple of songs on the ukulele for the innkeeper, his mother and twin sons, and the French couple sitting at the next table. We asked if we could take a photo with the innkeeper, and while my husband was preparing his camera, I started laughing at something the twin boys were doing, bent forward, and slammed my face smack dab onto a hard, wooden chair. Blood began dripping from my upper lip, which instantly began to swell until it eventually turned into what felt like a puffy beak. I love birds and joked with my husband that I wanted to be more birdlike.

In the end, I decided that I much prefer looking at birds than being birdlike. My beak was not so pleasant, and the pain and swelling brought on ailment number three, a sinus head cold in Arles.

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Ailment number three may also have been brought on by the fact that we spent an afternoon walking through the misting rain in the city of Arles and then returned to our apartment and kept the windows open wide to avoid the smell of old cigarette smoke from the previous tenants.

Tant pis. I can survive a cold, and I had brought with me a small, traveling pharmacy.

Each ailment had its way of testing the strength of our bond, though the physical element was mine alone to enjoy.

The third ailment was more of a shared experience.

Despite my head cold, we headed out to look for an eagle owl in a fairly unpopulated corner of Provence. An hour walking around without success, we were tired and hungry and ready for the picnic we had brought along, replete with a nice bottle of red wine.

Instead, we arrived back at the car to find a broken window, open door, and everything but my rock collection, an iPhone charger cable, and a roll of toilet paper taken from the inside.

Again, an ailment on a weekend, the day after Christmas, when everything in the vicinity was closed.

But we persevered. We had planned to head the next day to my husband’s friend from a study abroad program many years ago. Instead, we headed to her home that night, where we were welcomed into a warm home with a beautiful family, fed a traditional French meal, and able to calm our nerves (mine, at least) after driving on narrow, winding roads up to their house in the French alps.

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The blessing in strange packaging? We were able to have a truly cultural experience. In order to repair the window without paying 163 euro, we had to file a police report. Suffice it to say, we were thankful for our friend’s incredibly good humor and generosity in offering to act as traductrice/translator for us and helping to figure out where and when to bring our car in for the window replacement.

Somehow, despite potential mishaps along the way, all was well in the end. The gendarmerie was closed when we first arrived, so we went for a walk until it was slated to open (after a long lunch?). when we returned, it was even more definitively closed with a garage type door covering the entrance. Luckily, just as we were about to give up, a single police officer walked by on his way back to the office.

They only have one person staffing a police office in France? Strange, we thought, but we were just happy to have his undivided attention for the time it took to file the report.

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Window replacement was set for the following afternoon, but when we arrived the fellow working at the shop told us they had expected us the previous afternoon. Luckily again, for us, he was a kind fellow and offered to do the job that afternoon, even though his colleague had communicated the wrong time to him.

Ailment number three behind us, we headed further north still to the home of another friend. This time, we left our car in their driveway during the visit and not so much as a bird deigned to leave its mark upon it.

It was with great pleasure and exceeding relief that we returned the car without incident. Just a sigh and a quick exit.

The fourth and hopefully final ailment was quite literally and figuratively my husband’s to shoulder. His shoulder went into spasm shortly after our arrival in Paris, despite my wish to the river Rhone that our journey should continue without incident. Perhaps, the rocks I wished upon, gathered at the site where our car was vandalized, had been cursed? Or maybe, we were just destined for the full cultural experience so there would be no illusions should we decide to spend a sabbatical year living in France.

After two nights with little to no sleep, we decided to find a doctor. Thanks to monsieur Google, we found a Centre Medicale located a three-minute walk from our Airbnb apartment. Navigating via GPS once more, we found the center, though not without effort. There was only a small sign beside a set of tall dark green doors that my husband noticed after we walked past.

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Once we found the doors, it was unclear how we were supposed to get in. we pushed on the door, but it only gave a little under pressure before settling back into its track.

Maybe we call them? my husband suggested.

I pushed on the door again. Nothing.

He picked up his cell phone to find the number when someone opened the door from inside. Relieved, we stepped inside and followed a sign that told us the center for health was on the first floor (in france, the our first floor is the ground floor and is called the Rez de chaussée; our second floor is their first floor, if that makes sense). We headed up a winding set of stairs and entered the strangest health center I have ever seen.

The inside was lit up with lights and décor akin to the makeup section of a department store, with neon and pink and white lights. We stood in line. On our left stood a tall white counter with five staff seated behind it. As each person was helped and stepped aside, they would call out la suivante (next in line), and the next person would walk up. To our right was wall with with sets of jeopardy like design. On the left was medical and the right dental, both sides with rows squares that were all lit up in different colors, each with a different form medical care written inside. Traitement de la douleur, radiologie, acupuncture, etc.

When it was our turn, we explained the problem and proceeded to pay 23 euro for a visit with one of the on-call doctor. The woman seated behind the counter told us there was an open appointment at 11:15am. It was then 10:47am, so we decided to wait. There is always a long wait for an appointment in the states, so what was a half an hour.

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She gave us a piece of paper and told us to place it in the file box outside of Cabinet C. We were then instructed to sit and wait in the sale d’attente. Being from the United States, where people are germ-crazed, I have somewhat of a phobia of germs but nothing too irrational. I think more so, I was still recovering from being recently ill, and from the sound and sight of the people waiting, I was afraid we might both catch another variation of the current French plague—the woman standing next to me was pale and sweating and literally looked like she about to pass out and keel over—so we walked back down the winding stairs and sat in the windowsill of the ground floor.

We headed back up about fifteen minutes before the appointment and proceeded to wait another half hour. At half past eleven, a woman small in stature, with short brown curly hair, a long white coat, and loafers that would be sensible but for their high heels walked out of Cabinet C, down the hall, and called out: Monsieur Lewis (Lou-wheese).

She gave me not a first or second look, but I followed behind just the same. When we reached Cabinet C (and it didn’t take long), she ushered Rich inside and followed him. I think she would have shut the door on me, but I interjected that I was his wife and needed to help translate.

Comme vous voulez (As you wish), she said, shrugging her shoulders, lifting her hands up as if to express defeat, and rolling her eyes.

I speak English, she said with a heavy French accent.

Rich sat on a traditional hospital bed, and I was instructed to sit in the chair on the far side of the desk, closest to the door. (I guess that way, if I pulled any funny stuff, she could get me out pretty quickly.)

Questions were asked, and my husband replied. When he didn’t reply quickly enough, I would interject. At one point, the doctor snapped at me to essentially sit down and keep my mouth shut.

I wanted to shake her and yell out, that’s my husband! But instead, I sat down and took a deep breath.

The entire experience was in many ways both ridiculous and hilarious. This was a no nonsense doctor. Maybe, this is how it is in the French healthcare system, or maybe it was her personality. She was clear on her opinions and on what needed to happen next, which included an x-ray that we would need to get at yet another healthcare center.

While she did not seem to have any real idea as to what was wrong, she did manage to damn all of American healthcare—our practice of overprescribing medication, high costs for care, etc.—none of which I disagreed with, though she did criticize my husband for taking medication for high cholesterol.

23 euros for a visit, it’s not bad, right? she said to us.

We nodded and laughed. She was right, though the experience had felt a bit like we were animals being herded around by feisty cattle dog doctors. She was horrified when I told her what a typical doctor visit in the states would cost out of pocket. I think she actually gasped and put her hand over her mouth. It was quite dramatic. I loved it!

We really got her going when I told her we were on our honeymoon and Rich mentioned that our rental car had been broken into.

I think she wouldn’t have prescribed any medication had I not interjected to tell my husband to inform her that he hadn’t slept in two nights. She seemed to think that because he could move his arm in all directions, things were not so serious after all.

But you are not sleeping? She asked. That is serious then.

Um, yeah. That’s why we came to a doctor.

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We continued the herding experience at the next center for santé (health), where we took a ticket for radiologie sans RDV (without an appointment) and waited once more. This time, the waiting room felt a bit less plagued save for one young woman who intermittently emitted a deep, rasping sound reminiscent of what I could only imagine might be bronchitis or whooping cough. I was hoping for the former.

When our number was called, we were told that we could come back the following day at noon for an x-ray.

I was cranky from lack of coffee or breakfast, but I insisted we go to the pharmacie before eating. The pharmacie was tiny, and everything we needed seemed to cost 9 euros and change. There was no wait time for the prescription, however, and le collier (neck brace) was much snazzier than the large white one I was anticipating.

Things don’t seem to happen too quickly in French medical care, I muttered as we left.

But they are getting done, my husband replied, and without too much expense.

Things looked up after I had an expresso and a large bowl of French onion soup (just called onion soup in Paris) and several pieces of fresh bread.

The x-ray experience the following day was fairly straightforward. I was not allowed in because of the radiation, which made sense, so I took full advantage of being situated near a toilet (they are not always easy to find in Paris or desirable when you do find them). I had been pleasantly surprised by the number of helpfully located clean public toilets supplied with toilet paper during our travels around the country prior to our arrival in Paris. There seemed to be a pull off from the highway every few miles. Aire de x, y, and z, they were called.

But in Paris, you have to make use of every possible pit stop. At least, I seem to need to.

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We paid 50 euros with our American HSA card (the first center claimed they could only take credit cards with chips in them…tant pis). We were then instructed to wait another 45 minutes for the x-rays to be developed. No digital images in France, I suppose.

I was not excited to dilly dally around for another 45 minutes, but what else could we do? An hour later, we finally received the x-rays. They came in a white folder with a piece of white paper. Written on the paper was a short paragraph in French (of course) explaining my husband’s condition, which I did my best to analyze, though my command of the language does not truly extend to medical speak, which I can barely understand in English either.

And that was it. My husband emailed the photos of the image to a family member, who suggested he invest in a different system for carrying his heavy camera lens around.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent eating, drinking a lot of red wine, and walking around.

During our 22-day voyage de noces in France, we managed to visit several regions of the country (more, apparently, than many Parisiens see, we were told by a Parisien), four dear friends and their families, the gendarmerie, window replacement garage, and experience the French health care system.

All in all, it was a experience overflowing with culture, gastronomie, and the most important part…love.

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Je ne sais rien

December 13, 2015 ~ Phoenix, Arizona

I begin this piece from a hotel near the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Early the following morning, my new husband and I will rise in the dark to begin an only slightly belated honeymoon, thanks to the generous donation of miles and financial hugs from many friends and family. This will be my second honeymoon for my second marriage, and I head into it with heart open and vulnerable.

December 19, 2015 ~ Bordeaux, France

This evening, I write from a loft in Bordeaux, where my husband and I will stay until Tuesday morning. Already, we have spent several days in France. We have covered many miles and seen some things of great beauty and others I would un-see if I could.

 

At the airport Charles de Gaulle, we waited with baited breath for my checked luggage to appear on the baggage carousel. Bags and ukulele in hand, we headed for the train.

 

Maybe, we should find a bathroom before we get on the train? I suggested.

 

You just went ten minutes ago, came the reply, accompanied by a look of exasperation.

 

It was twenty minutes ago! I pleaded. The look I received was enough for me not to insist. Instead, I harrumphed inside and furrowed my brows for a long time. I swear, people with large bladders will never understand how us tiny-bladdered people live. Sometimes, it is minute to minute. There just isn’t enough room in my body for all of these organs plus a bladder. The second I empty it, there is plenty of liquid just waiting to rush in to take the place of what was once there.

 

December 15, 2015 ~ Gare de Lyon

Can you tell us where to find the Hertz location de voitures? I ask a third person.

Oui. Vous tournez a droite, et continue.

Merci.

 

We had already attempted the right turn and straight ahead option a couple of times. Apparently, turning right gives one many options in this particularly spacious station. Finally, we find the tiny car rental office. To get our car takes what feels like ages. Many French people come and go while we wait. We are offered insanely high insurance rates, which we refuse, and I hope we have made the right choice.

 

Traveling in France already feels so different from previous visits and longer stays. We have intelligent mobile phones that bring the United States with us and tell us where we are at all times.

 

Except when underground.

 

Settled into our burgundy Renault rental car with soft black interior, we quickly realize with increasing angst that there is no cell service underground. How will we figure out which way to go once we leave the garage?

 

Desperately, I try to plug in the address for the friend we will be visiting in Bretagne, the rainy northwest corner of the country.

 

Nothing.

 

I open our Michelin guide to France, take one look at it, and fold it back up. There is no way in hell I have slept enough to try to figure out how to get around this crazy city, known for its predictably unpredictable drivers.

 

My husband turns right, turns once more to the right, and then thankfully pulls over and parks in a no parking zone.

 

We sit and fidget with the phone. Technology is wonderful when it works, but when you have been traveling for more than 24 hours and it doesn’t, it can be painful. Not that we were really complaining. A GPS not working is clearly a ridiculously decadent problem to encounter, especially with the current state of the world.

 

Finally, GPS up and raring to go, address plugged in, we pulled into the realm of Parisian vehicles. And we survived, arriving in Quimper well into the evening, 42 hours of travel after leaving our Phoenix hotel at 3am the previous morning.

 

December 15, 2015 continued ~ Loin de l’Arizone/Far from Phoenix

We spent two fairly wet but lovely days visiting with French friends who are like family. We wandered the streets of the Centre Ville, walked along the river Odet, drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of bread, cheese, and the most delicious olives in all the world, and talked for hours with dear friends.

 

Visiting Quimper and La Bretagne is like returning home, and I felt full of joy and sad to leave. Being there was also bittersweet. I was reminded of friends with whom have lost contact, an ex-husband in Wisconsin, and the many years that had passed since I lived there, ten and a bit to be nearly exact.

 

I have sometimes envied people I know who have settled in one place and who have a community of friends. I have moved so many times that I have had the opportunity to meet remarkable people, people who are full of life and love; but I often feel as though I have no friends at all when I am sitting at home on my couch. They all seem far away, both in body and spirit.

 

But then, when I imagine living in one place for years and years, I feel a sense of being imprisoned. I wonder if this desire to keep moving stems from the belief that I can somehow grow older more slowly if I just keep moving.

 

Lately, I am beginning to realize that this may be the case, and I am growing ever aware that it is as far from the truth as anything may be.

 

It was more than ten years ago that I wandered the streets of Quimper. A lifetime has passed since that time, one that has encompassed a Master’s degree, a marriage, a doctorate, a divorce, and a second marriage.

 

December 18, 2015 ~ Loin de la Bretagne/Far from Quimper

Five hours after leaving the familiarity of Quimper, we joined a line of cars attempting to slowly enter the center of the city of Bordeaux.

 

We knew that Bordeaux would present us with the challenge of parking, but we didn’t think about being tired, hungry, and super cranky while attempting to find parking.

 

Had we spent only one night in this strange city, I would not have fond memories to recall. Nightmarish parking, super expensive shops downtown, and fatigue combined to flood my body with a feeling of being completely out of place and out of my element.

 

What was I doing here? What was I doing with my life? Why would I want to travel when I could be comfortable, snuggling with my cats and dog in my home in the desert.

 

After a good night’s sleep, I felt restored. We woke up early to rescue our car from possible ticketing or towing and walked in the dark, following the signals of our GPS to find our way.

 

As we approached the car, I saw a woman and a man in the distance. I couldn’t tell if they were arguing or if she was laughing. The man wore a green jacket with a hood pulled over his head.

 

When I heard him call out, Donne moi le monnaie, I knew something was not right.

 

Give me the money, he had said, as if this were a movie.

 

It seemed that she gave him her wallet, but he was not satisfied and tugged at her purse.

 

Mais, non! I heard her respond. But he did not stop.

 

Arrete! I called out. Stop!

 

But he didn’t stop.

 

We walked toward them, but it was too late.

 

I was in a daze as I attempted to provide directions from the GPS while we drove away from the center of the city of Bordeaux.

 

Don’t let me out of your sight, I told my husband as we left the scene behind.


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Vicarious Love and Acceptance of What is

Last night, I dreamed of India. A pair of piercing eyes from a Stupa, watching me through the dark, floated in a space just above the foot of my bed.

Until yesterday afternoon, I had never heard a Stupa but already they had a strange, spiritual hold over me. Maybe this was a design for a long thought about tattoo I could get, I thought as I drove home from work after seeing the Stupa for the first time in a local store with items from Tibet. I had finally decided on a trajectory of flying ravens, though I doubted I would ever actually go through with it.

Only moments later, I thought better of it. Did the world really need another white girl from the West falling in love with the Buddha and proclaiming their affinity through ink on the skin? Would this choice make me into a cliché? Would it even matter?

A voice inside reminded me that I was  far too indecisive for a tattoo anyway. Already, I had gotten my nose pierced and taken out the stud, only to re-pierce it years later. Recently, I had taken the stud out once more. A tattoo was a bit too permanent for someone with such an indecisive character as mine.

In my dream, I was packing for a trip to India with my music partner. He was packed and ready far before me. I can remember sitting on the floor of my childhood bedroom with a bag open and clothing strewn all over the floor and thrown haphazardly into the bag. He called to find out if I was ready to drive to the airport. I was nowhere near ready but told him I would on my way soon. I can never bear to disappoint him, though experience tells me it is safe to be honest.

I knew from watching a dear friend prepare to travel to India that the process was not a simple one. There were vaccines and medications to procure, appropriate footwear to find, toiletries, optics, luggage that would be easy to haul on foot, train, plane, and beyond. And then to fit everything into two bags, one that could be worn on your back and the other on the front.

There was a period of my life where I moved every three months or so.  After leaving one transient community after another and bidding adieu to dear friends I may never see again, I began to long for the stability of a home in one place and friends I could have tea with on a Sunday afternoon.

I have travelled around the world and lived in foreign places, but I felt a pang of sadness when I realized that it had been ten years since I taught English in elementary schools in the northwest region of France.

Was this dream an indication that the travel bug had found me once more?

In my dream, my friend finally gave up on waiting, drove to my house, and showed up on my doorstep impatiently informing me that we were going to miss our flight. I guess my subconscious was telling me to stay put in Prescott for now.

It is so easy to view another life and wish it was your own. But it is most often an exercise in oversimplifying of reality. No life is easy, regardless of how glamorous it appears.

So I made coffee and oatmeal, took a shower, got dressed, put on earrings and a necklace I had nearly forgotten about, warmed up my car to melt the ice on the windshield, and headed to work. On my way, I looked in my case of CDs for something to listen to. I found a mix my sibling had made for me upon my return from some foreign travel years ago, maybe Africa? On it were songs that brought to back in time. The theme song from Dawson’s Creek, a Joan Jett song from the move “10 Things I hate about you,” and so on. When the theme song from the movie “Cruel Intentions” started playing, I felt a broad smile take shape across my face. An overwhelming feeling of joy welled up inside of me, and I beamed.

I realized that I could repeat the words of Thich Nhat Hanh and know them to be true.

I was completely happy and at peace with my life, just as it was.

Here’s to happiness and joy in your own life and the lives of those you love.


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You gave up Alaska for this?

from the airplaneWhen I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.

By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.

“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”

There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.

This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.

I spent a painful two months in Washington.

During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”

It was.

Alaska sun

I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.

I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.

On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.

The winter was a dark and difficult time.

Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.

Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.

Alaska sunsetBack to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.

It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.

This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”

I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.

I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.

footprint in Alaska sand