What doesn’t kill you: expat epiphanies

I’m not a weenie, a wuss, a weak-minded woman. I’ve survived – even thrived – in some fairly adverse circumstances. But, quite honestly, being an expat, a “trailing” spouse, a foreigner– can be precarious in the best of times. As the holiday season begins, as families consider going over the river and through the woods…well…for this expat, it’s all downhill from there!

I’m sure the weather here in Luxembourg (rain, rain, and more rain) doesn’t lift my spirits, nor did my husband’s extended-at-the-last-minute trip to the U.S. last week. Being alone in another country continent is plain odd. I’ve lived places in the past besides my home town, but it was with my husband AND children, so that when Mark traveled, I had the kids keeping me spinning, paired with the comfort of their “I know, Mom,” mantras. Then, as the kids (mostly) grew up and left us, I had the routine of my job, the camaraderie of coworkers, and the congregation of my church to keep time flying. Now the days are long, daylight is short, and my heart is a bit cold in relation to being away from my…relations.

Thanksgiving is drawing nigh. In the United States. There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Luxembourg, though a smattering of celebrations can be found. Here, turkeys must be ordered (and may not fit in the small ovens), canned pumpkin is nowhere in sight, and Thursday is just another day at the office (or home alone in the apartment)! There will be no kiddos stumbling downstairs and into the kitchen, no offspring sniffing the air and asking “what time are we eating?” There will be no Scattergories or Settlers of Catan or Macy’s parade while I prep and cook and watch the family fun. There is, however, a rehearsing of gratitude, a chorus of gratefulness. My dear husband and I have a strong, affectionate marriage–we enjoy each other’s company. We have four (our dear daughter-in-law makes 5!) children who are accomplished, kind, funny people. We have the cutest grandson in the world, who is learning integrity and compassion from his parents. I survived sepsis, the illnesses of and death of a parent and parent-in-law,  breast cancer, an exile to Georgia (the state), and vacuuming around dead people in a funeral home–our home–for over 2 years. We’ve (Mark is a willing and wise participant) stumbled through all this and more, regained our footing, and continued to wait on that “peace that transcends all understanding.”

This is a wonderful place to live, a once-in-a-lifetime-experience to garner. BUT it’s not easy–to live/work/drive/shop here, to be away from our kids and extended family, to work in an environment where English is spoken only when necessary, to have no friends (yet) who know us deeply and love us anyway. BUT again–we thank our God every time we remember you. In all our prayers for all of you, we always pray with joy. Thus says the Apostle Paul in Philippians. This Thanksgiving, I’m sticking with him.



Coffee Klatsch

Coffee. I miss meeting a friend in a coffee shop, warming my hands around a LARGE steaming mug of the aromatic, dark drink, chatting without end as the waitress brings the pot to “top off” my cup. I miss being asked, “Cream and sugar?” so I can respond, “No thanks, I take it black and bitter!” Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a new friend over coffee for me, tea for her. The company was great, the cup was small–not even the width of my hand, and there were no refills, free or otherwise…

Like all of us, this beautiful beverage has a history, dark and bold. In the 16 century, a shepherd noticed his little goats bouncing off the Ethiopian plateau after eating the berries from a certain tree. The shepherd took those berries and reported his observations to a local monastery. The monks devised a brew from the beans and drank it to keep themselves from dozing during dusk devotions. The pep-producing beverage gained a reputation which spread quickly, along with the beans (www.ncausa.org). By the 17th century, coffee had spilled across Europe, replacing the usual breakfast drink of champions–wine or beer. Apparently, replacing the dawn draft with coffee invigorated workers, assisting their energy and effectiveness (according to the National Coffee Association of the USA). Hmpff…truly, critical thinking, powered by mocha, at its finest!

And now, as Mark and I find ourselves in the heart of Europe, I’m missing my American-get-a-large-for-a-buck coffee from McDonald’s. Though I do love my java black, espresso is not my thing (there’s not enough in a shot for lingering). And poor Mark, who loves half and half in his brew…coffee with milk after breakfast is frowned upon, and we can’t find dairy which translates as the whitener Mark prefers. So we smile as we swill a cup o’ joe down to the last dune of sludge in the mug and ponder the differences in caffeine culture (that’s not what keeps us up at night!), drinking in the antioxidants and the European world around us.




Vacation Day in Gnomemansland

We had to get out of the apartment–the sky was clear, the temperature perfect, the day free from work. As usual, we hadn’t planned ahead, pretending we’re spontaneous rather than procrastinators, so Mark and I each grabbed our iPads, searching “things to see near me.”Ever since the ginger-haired Irishman at Café Belair suggested we try a frothy beverage other than the usual Bofferding or Diekirch, Chouffe beer has been our favorite occasional brew: McChouffe for Mark, a darker ale, and the blond LaChouffe for me. Packaging for this drink is playful–a little elf in a red hat brightens the bottles. We heard the brewhouse was close by and fun to visit.  There was gnome more discussion–we were off to the Belgian Ardennes, to the town of Houffalize, less than an hour’s drive.

We arrived at the brasserie to find it hopping.  Who thought so many families would be interested in suds? It was, as always, difficult to find a place to park, until…an older, well-dressed gentleman who had been facing the trees at the end of the parking lot, zipped his pants, turned to us and signaled he would be freeing up a parking space. Mark and I looked at each other–that man had been Euro-peeing!! Lest I begin a steady stream of rants regarding such a practice–yes, we’ve seen it (not the tinkle, just the stance) several times–on busy streets, in McDonald’s _arking lot, in the _ark–all of these _laces with water closets nearby! _lease kee_ the _EE out of the _ublic!!

We had a great parking space, but we didn’t make the cut for the tour of the brewery–so much for spontaneity! A walk around the grounds was glorious, a lunch at the tavern tasty, a look at the Chouffe shop short. So here’s to blue skies and big adventures, tender love and untamed laughter,  hard work and halcyon days. May your glass ever be full and your bladder empty! Santé!