Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Heaven's Gate: Reflections on 2014

I still am often blindsided by how quickly time passes. I know it has been ages since I have posted, and I could state a million excuses as to why, but in all honesty, none of them are any good. Yes, I have been very busy - school volunteer work, women's club volunteer work, kids, husband, etc. However, in all honesty, I could not be happier than to be bidding 2014 adieu. I really shouldn't complain, so I won't. Suffice it to say, the year started with the flu and just got complicated from there. We had lovely times traveling - Switzerland for Carnival break, Normandy in June, the US for J's college look-sie trip, the South of France and Monaco in July and Prague for fall break. The trips definitely helped to balance out a tough work year for Joe (long hours and lots of stress), the passing of our beloved dog (Shelby) and the annual departure of Lux friends who have completed their expat stays and headed back home. I have learned that you can prepare yourself for the challenges of living abroad - the language barriers, the foreign-ness of a new country, the idiosyncrasies that come with new cultures. But nothing can prepare you for the ups and downs that will inevitably come, just as they do from time to time, only - being far from home and familiar surroundings can sometimes make them seem so much bigger than they really are.

Both of the boys are in high school now, so I am now in count-down mode to becoming an empty nester. Which is why, when I had the opportunity to apply for a part-time contract position at their school, I jumped at the chance. Of all of the jobs I have had in my life, the ones I had at schools were by far my favorite. Though my parents, teachers themselves, strongly talked me out of becoming a teacher, I always felt like it was my true calling. Though I am way past wanting to pursue that goal full-time at this juncture in my life, my new role as yearbook advisor fits me perfectly. I have both middle school and high school students that I absolutely adore and I always imagined myself working with older students - this suites me perfectly. Joe and I were yearbook editors when we were in high school, which ignited my interest in writing ages ago. So, what could be more perfect than to work with students in a low-pressure way (okay, so the next few months will be more stressful as we near our deadline), while teaching them something I also enjoy - capturing moments in time through writing? Really, a yearbook is just a paper version of the modern-day blog.

As for the low points of 2014, the lowest was by far the passing of our golden retriever. Shelby had been with us for 12 years and was a gem of a dog, despite her diva ways. She was affectionate - on her terms - and one of the smartest dogs we have ever had. She was diagnosed with cancer in February (a large cyst embedded in her ribs - inoperable). Within days of her diagnosis, she stopped going upstairs to her bed in our bedroom. By May, she was in visible pain and we worked our hardest to keep her comfortable. We decided to take a long weekend trip to Normandy in May, leaving her in the caring hands of our wonderful pet sitter, who is also friends with our vet. We no sooner reached our hotel the first evening when we received a phone call from our vet. Despite the fact that Shelby had been in great spirits the night before and was still walking and eating the morning we left, I think she sensed that we were heading out for a few days (she loved our pet sitter and could always sense when we were leaving) and decided that she had had enough. Our wonderful vet and pet sitter comforted her during her last hours and handled everything for us. It was still heartbreaking to come home to an empty house when we returned, but Shelby's intuition to depart on her terms while we were away minimized the pain for us. I don't know how I would have handled it otherwise.

Being the dog-loving family that we are, our house was not empty for long. Within a month I had located a breeder in France, only a short distance from us, who had just had a litter of chocolate and black labs. The puppies would be ready for their new homes at the end of August, right about the time we would return from our extended trip to the US. Jolie Belle, our little chocolate lab, joined us right after school started in the fall. She has certainly filled our lives once again and we are completely smitten by this bundle of fur. So far, our biggest challenge with Jolie is that she doesn't understand the command "come". She has slipped her collar a few times and has quickly determined the weak points in our yard where she can jump the fence. Needless to say, we have a landscaper coming in January to fix our fencing issue, but it does remind us of something that we found quite perplexing this past summer.

Our house is located on a very busy street. Our street is on a busy bus route and there has been a ton of construction going on in our area as Luxembourg is in the process of replacing all of the dated pipes in the water system throughout the city - all at once. Therefore, our street has become dramatically busier this year. Shortly after Shelby passed away, we kept finding our front gate wide open. At first, Joe and I assumed the kids were leaving it open on their way to and from school, so we continued to remind them that they needed to close the gate, knowing that we would soon have a puppy to look after and didn't want them developing bad habits. It wasn't long before we realized that they were not the culprits. We would purposefully close the gate ourselves late at night and still find the gate open when we woke up the next morning. This continued to happen when I traveled to the US with the boys. Joe would get up for work and each morning the gate would be wide open. We quickly became concerned that there were neighborhood kids playing jokes on us or something, but really, nothing of the sort made sense.

We brought Jolie home in late August and were determined to keep the gate closed, even if we had to purchase a deadbolt lock to do so. We were still finding our gate open the week before we picked her up in France. Needless to say, Joe and I were both baffled when, suddenly, the day after we brought Jolie home, the gate remained closed. Not once since she has been with us have we found the gate open like we did this summer. Yes, the occasional friend has left it open, but nothing like what we were experiencing this summer. Literally, every morning our gate was wide open - like clockwork. Joe and I have talked about it numerous times. In our hearts, we suspect Shelby was our culprit. We never had the chance to tell her goodbye ourselves. Perhaps this was her way of letting us know she was still with us, but was ready to say goodbye once we had Jolie in our home and in our hearts. I still tear up just thinking about it.

Shelby's passing has been the primary reason why I haven't been motivated to write. As I have mentioned before, my posts write themselves, so I don't put myself on a schedule - I write when the ideas come to me. This post has percolated in my head for months, but I just wasn't ready to write it. A cloud entered my life when Shelby left, and it took me several months to finally re-evaluate why her passing, in combination of the departure of so many Lux friends, left me so distraught. The last few months I have found myself slowly coming around, and I have my family to thank for it. Without their stability and support, I think that grey cloud would still be lingering.

So, in 30 minutes we will usher in a new year. I don't make a practice of making resolutions, though this year, I will try to carve out more time for myself, which includes returning to my writing. When we first moved here, I found it to be tremendously therapeutic. Thankfully, I still find it to be so.

 I really look forward to what new experiences 2015 may bring. That being said, I will always remember 2014 as the year of personal challenge and growth. Cheers and Happy New Year from Luxembourg!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Last week the lower school at ISL held an assembly in their front atrium. All of the children from pre-school to 5th grade were in attendance, as were several invited guests - Board of Governor members, alumni, press. Everyone assembled that afternoon was there to observe the collection of items that would be placed in a time capsule that would be installed in a glass window casement in the atrium. The contents were selected by the students and were chosen to symbolize and represent the 50th anniversary of the school, the celebration of the first year of the new lower school building, and to capture the essence of our time - 2014 - here, in Luxembourg. Some of the items included an Apple product (an iPod, I believe), receipts from the petrol station and super market to show what the prices of items were at this time, and pictures of the current pre-school class - students who will hopefully be in attendance for the opening of the time capsule during their senior year at ISL, 14 years from now.

I stood in the audience that afternoon as the items were slowly introduced to the students - 25 in total. As I stood there, listening to the items being listed, I couldn't help but wonder what I would put in my own personal time capsule from this chapter in my life? Our lives have changed quite significantly from our lives in the US almost 3 years ago. Changes that sometime don't seem so obvious like they did those first few months here. Perhaps it was the newness of the European lifestyle, or the fascination of a new city, a new culture, a different language. Whatever it was, it kept our lives busy; busy enough that we didn't even realize the changes we had made. Now, those changes seem more obvious, particularly when we head back to the US. Life back home seems so much more hectic, more rushed. Yet, little things like hearing English everywhere you go or the simple act of going to Target or Starbucks seem like forgotten luxuries. I don't miss the traffic, or the hectic weekend schedules, but sometimes that thoughtless trip to the mall or baseball game seem like a lifetime ago.

Summer break begins this weekend, so our yearly trip back to the US is approaching pretty rapidly. This year is significant to us because it also happens to be our oldest's college tour trip. It is hard to believe how quickly this has come for us. Even though we still have 2 years ahead of us, those twinges of "empty nest" anxiety have already started for me. It is hard enough when this time of the year comes as many expats end their tours abroad and head back to their home countries. This year, a lot of friends have reached the end of their journey here, so the transition seems more apparent. More goodbyes than we experienced the first couple of years. The only difference for us is knowing that we don't have that sense of closure like a normal expat does. Our time here is indefinite, so the future seems to be filled with more goodbyes on the horizon. Of course, on the positive side of this, new people arrive, so the opportunity of making new friends is always something to look forward to.

Time certainly has a way of sneaking up on us. Days may seem to pass slowly, but as we get older, the years speed by. I suppose that time capsule will one day symbolize just how much things can change in such a small window of time. In 14 years, our boys will be 28 and 30. Who knows where we will all be and what we may be doing then! Looking back, 14 years ago, we were living in Texas. Our youngest was only a couple of months old. Last week, he graduated from middle school. Our first year here in Luxembourg, our oldest went through the same graduation process for 8th grade.  I look back at that blog post and remember how much I teared up during that ceremony, amazed at how much older he had become in that first year here in Europe. Now, both of the boys stand taller than me and both will be in high school in the fall. The realization of it all can sometimes take my breath away.

I guess I can now imagine what the parents of those pre-schoolers will feel like 14 years from now. More than likely most of those children will have left Luxembourg for new destinations, whether they are back in their home countries or places not yet known to them. However, for those that remain, the day that time capsule is unveiled, I hope their parents also have the opportunity to attend. Perhaps they will be reminded of their chapters here in Luxembourg - watching the World Cup on the large screens in Place Guillaume with their little one in tow, or perhaps visiting their child in a brand new school building while they play in the sand box or climb into the reading loft in their classroom to read a book. Whatever those memories may be, I am sure they will be amazed, just as I am, at how quickly the years passed.

I am often asked, "How would you describe your life here in this tiny country in Europe?" I think this particular author describes the experience quite well :)

Living in Luxembourg