Home Again, Home Again

A week ago, we said our goodbyes, gave lingering hugs, dried teary eyes. It’s a 16 hour trip, door to door. If only there were a gradual transition from one country  continent to another, a way to ease into the cultural differences, the language differences, the housing differences, the people differences, THE STORE HOUR differences…oh wait, there is a transition…the airport. Having just wasted $5.99 seeing 47 Meters Down, a film about stupidity and diving with sharks, I see the similarity between the decompression stops a low-depth diver must use to prevent getting “the bends” to the time in the airport during our long journeys,  allowing us to adjust from one home to another.

The airport is a time warp.  From the moment I present my passport to the not-so-friendly TSA agent until the destination airport is facing my ample backside, time takes on a speed of its own. The date no longer matters, hours seem sooooo much longer than 60 minutes when the layover is expanded. But when those connections are tight, the minutes aren’t long enough, despite shuttles, moving sidewalks, race walking, and/or praying. 

Store hours are deceiving. One of the hard things about returning to Luxembourg is adjusting to the limitation of store hours, grocery and otherwise. In the airport, though stores are open 24/7, none of them near the gates have items anyone begs to purchase. How many neck pillows, magazines, and packages of gum do you need???

Airport people are a culture of their own. This time, we were the ones coughing and sneezing and sniffing (compliments of the grandson and great-nephew we loved on). We saw the rolled eyes, the grimaces, the recoil, but we were too Nyquilled up to care, until Mr. Wonderful broke his tooth on a cough drop… lacking compassion in my cold med stupor, I ignored his soliloquy on the what-if’s and if-only’s and son-of-a-guns, using all my willpower to keep from rolling a stinky young kid with a scroungy backpack off the 4 seats he was occupying so could take a nap. And those fellow travelers who love to talk, to anybody, and for those business people who participate in (loud) conference calls? The congestion in my ears was a gift!

Man-sleeping-in-airport-terminal

Now we’ve said our hellos, settled into schedules, and filled the fridge. I jumped right back on that bus to the grocery store, parallel parked for an appointment, accelerated to 140 km/h (sh!) on the motorway. When we’re here in our cozy apartment, our visits to our other “home” are dreamlike. But no matter where we are, we’re engaged, we’re busy, we’re involved, and we’re exhausted. So here’s the deal, Luxembourg–we’re back, and we’re ALL IN!

 

 

 

 

Six Years Ago Today…

Mr. Wonderful was preparing for his mission trip to South Sudan, working one more day before leaving with our pastor and friend Sam to fly to Africa. They were visiting a school for village children, a school struggling for funding, straining to keep students in the cultural tug of war between education and custom. He was open for his purpose in going, the reason he had this opportunity to form relationships with people across the world who needed, in addition to money and infrastructure and peace, an extra dose of encouragement. I’d helped him make lists: buy a hat to protect his easily sizzling Scotch-Irish skin in the African sun, get immunizations to protect from malaria-spreading mosquitos, pack, pack, and pack for his departure the next day.

In the meantime, I was carrying on with normal–going to work, making my grocery list, having my yearly mammogram. I had a wonderful day at work with my co-workers and quirky high school students. On my grocery list I put the usual eggs and milk, potatoes and chicken, along with a bit of ice cream to celebrate having my breasts in a vice! It’s a good thing I bought the ice cream…

My mammogram wasn’t normal. And though it would be two days before I received the official report, the doctor said from the films, then the ultrasound, then as he performed a biospy that very afternoon…he said he was sure the lump was cancer, and yes, I should tell my husband before he leaves the country.

With a big bandage on my boob and fears picking at my brain, I stopped at (my beloved) Wegmans on the way home–after all, I had a grocery list. The sweet girl at the check out asked the perfunctory, “How are you today?” I started to answer as usual, to say I was fine. Instead, I blurted, “I just found out I have cancer.” The next day at work, when my sweet friend Donna greeted me with her usual “Good morning, Sunshine,” I joked with her, dancing through her computer lab as I spilled my news. I can keep other peoples’ secrets to my death, but not my own.

I couldn’t keep the fact that I had breast cancer a secret. Not only did I have cancer, but it was diagnosed in Breast Cancer Awareness month! I really thought I deserved a special award of some kind…so we cried with our family, made light with our family, I milked it with my children to be funny. Treating this THING as something humorous was the only way I could feel I had power over it. And Mark went to South Sudan–it was a wonderful trip for him, and a wonderful distraction for me to wait for pictures and stories of his encounters and experiences. While he was gone, I was at peace, and I can’t exactly explain that, but it’s true. Maybe it was the loving attention from my friends–the pink boxing gloves, the books, the scarves, the notes and cards and phone calls.

That was six years ago. Today, I’m healthy and happy (and I still think I’m funny), and I believe I’ve been equipped to be an encourager to others in the same situation. And now it’s October again–Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink ribbons everywhere. Every October, I remember…I say “this is MY month, it’s all about me!” While it is important for me to rehearse the faithfulness of God in this chapter in my life, this month isn’t about me; it’s about people everywhere–women and men–and the need for early detection through mammograms. It’s about my very dear grandmother, who died at the age of 86, 16 years after being diagnosed and having a mastectomy. It’s about my very dear mother, who was diagnosed at the age of 70 and won that battle after a lumpectomy and radiation. My dear cousin, Suzanne, was diagnosed in her 40’s struck back with surgery and chemo and is now healthy. So it’s about her, and my friends Vikki and Kerry, who had more surgery and treatment than I.

In Luxembourg this month, the Think Pink Ladies Night is Friday, October 20th (thinkpinklux.com). The American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is having a Think Pink Coffee Morning on Tuesday, October 10. The Think Pink staff will will be sharing information about women’s health and support services in Luxembourg.  I’ll be thinking (in pink) about women who are battling, who are newly diagnosed, who are doing routine checks. And I’ll be praying for them…my bosom buddies…

walking with mama lockhart

 

 

Vienna Waits…

It wasn’t how we’d planned our last day in Vienna.

It had been an amazing week–3 days in Vienna, a train ride for a few fairy tale days in Salzburg, then the train back to Vienna for one last evening before our flight home. We’d seen the Spanish Riding School, Schonbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, the Parliament building, the MuseumsQuartier, Stadtpark.  As we learned about Jewish history, and Mozart, and listened to music (Mozart and Strauss, and Verdi, and Beethoven, and more), drank good beer, saw the history of Freud and the opulence of the Hofburgs, we compared the Vienna we grew up in (Vienna, West Virginia) with this “real” Vienna. Sure, our Vienna has a river, too–the Ohio River rather than the Danube. Our Vienna has a boys’ choir, too, thanks to Janet Blessing and the Smoot Boys’ Choir. Our Vienna has woods, but the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains rather than the Alps. In this Vienna, we hopped on and off, Ringstrassed, and wiener-schnitzel-ed more than we dreamed possible.


The last, and critical, item on our list included sampling the very best desserts of Vienna–the decadent sachertorte, a dense chocolate cake including a layer of apricot jam under the dark chocolate frosting, and strudel, the whirlpool of thin buttery pastry with fruit filling. We had chosen the best locations for the sweets, in the best places, to people watch before we left for the bus stop. Then we met Rose.

She was waiting, as were we, for the bus from the airport to the Zentrum.  The pretty, older woman asked us, in German, what time the bus would arrive. With our stumbling and deer-in-the-headlights look, she quickly began to speak English, and we discussed the arrival of the bus, our nationality and hers, and the warm and sunny weather. She relayed that she had accompanied her son to the airport, that he had been in Vienna to comfort her on the 2nd anniversary of her husband’s death (that day), but was headed back to his home in Zurich. Her plan was to enjoy an ice cream treat before she went home alone to her apartment.

We sat with Rose on the bus as she told us about her home in Salzburg. We enjoyed conversations around music and books, loving and missing family. As we three left the bus at the designated spot, Mark and I thanked Rose for the chat and wished her comfort in her grief, telling her we would keep her in our prayers.  She grabbed our hands and asked, “Won’t you please join me for some ice cream?” The answer took not a moment of review on our part, and we followed the woman across the trolley rails and down the block, arriving at Schwedenplatz, commandeering a table for three. She smiled proudly as we ate, and introduced herself as Rose, German by birth, resident of Switzerland for many years before moving to Vienna with her second husband, Leo. She talked about their yearly tradition of attending an opera, but twice having walked out at intermission as it was too progressive. She told us she was born in 1939, that her father died two weeks after he was conscripted to serve in World War II, that her family fled to Switzerland in order to survive. And after we talked and laughed, finished our ice cream and grabbed the bill, Rose bid us farewell in the traditional three-kiss Austrian fashion. This woman, kind and wise and beautiful, grabbed both my hands and looked in my eyes. “Take care to love your husband so well,” she said, then patted Mark once more on the arm and walked away.

We never did taste sachertorte  or Austrian strudel, but we did have the most delightful sampling of human nature! I don’t believe in luck, or karma, or kismet–it’s no accident that we encountered Rose, who delighted and encouraged and taught us. It was on our itinerary–not the one we made–all the time.


 

 

 

My Sunshine

We missed it.

My amateur astronomer, brilliant scientist husband would have been over the moon to see the eclipse that was a bigger news flash in the U.S.  yesterday than Donald Trump’s latest social media post. Our kids messaged us at various stages of the path of the moon, in various stages of excitement and anticipation. My fluency in “nag” kicked in, as I reminded my adult children to beware the dangers of looking straight at the sun, to which my offspring replied, in less than stellar fashion, “Don’t worry, Mom. We used protection.” Even today, as my daughter posted her views of the eclipse on Facebook, tagging her dad and asking him to chime in, that celestial alignment drew us closer, despite the ocean between us, the miles between us, the years and differing stages of life between us.

We’ve missed a lot. We’ve missed the funeral of a beloved cousin, a beloved aunt. We’ve missed the funerals of some very old, dear friends. We’ve missed the celebrations of retirements and graduations. The opportunities that slipped through my fingers…spending more time with my grandson, shopping with my daughter and daughter-in-law as we sip Starbucks and solve the social ills of the world, cooking with one son who recently loves my recipes, listening (in the same room) to a son who composes, watching a son who passionately builds retro projects…loving them all, up close.

Here’s what we’ve gained: the undeniable knowledge that our kids are great adults, smart and kind, deep thinkers about the hard things in life, appreciative of the pleasures and challenges of living and loving. Even if they weren’t my flesh, I would want to be friends with them (though I’d give them a good warning before I dropped by so they could clean up first!). We’ve gained the world–friends from EVERYwhere, travel here and there, and a sprinkling of a new language.  It doesn’t take the planets aligning, or whatever an eclipse is (sorry, honey!), for us to realize the opportunity we have here in Luxembourg is astronomical. The distance, the time, the heavenly occurrence…can’t take my sunshine away.

Music performed by my very sweet daughter!

Summertime, and the living is easy. And quiet. And deserted. The programs at churches and clubs are bare bones for the summer. There is no book club, or travel talk, or Bible study or small group, no French classes–no traffic–as everyone (and I mean the whole country) goes elsewhere on vacation. The American expats fly home to Alabama and Michigan and New York and Oklahoma and Seattle and Ohio and Texas for weeks on end, taking advantage of the completion of a school year. The EU expats travel to Italy and Ireland, to Provence and Poland, London and Latvia, the Netherlands or New York. The motorways are filled with campers and motor homes going everywhere but here. 

travel-plan

For a week I sat here by myself, while Mark flew to the U.S. for work, still far FAR away from our kids. I did my best to stay busy, but I nearly had to break up with Netflix–it was so much easier to settle in with my favorite shows and actors and movies than to make myself join the rest of the remaining population of Luxembourg. The weekend was the hardest: despite the never-ending festivals in Luxembourg, the energy and activity of city centre, the evenings defeated me, so I called up my old friend Tom Hanks and the staff from Downton Abbey to keep me company.

Mr. Wonderful has returned, and the rest of Luxembourg is slowly trickling back. I’ve now experienced the sadness of losing three expat friends back to their homelands–just the nature of the beast here. And now is the advent of a  new crop of expats, having spent a last summer wherever “home” is, squeezing out every last minute with family and friends, staying in temporary housing until the shipping container arrives, shopping for appliances with the correct plug and wattage, foraging in the grocery store for products that look familiar despite the two languages choices on the packaging being more than foreign.  This summer, I’m the adviser, the info desk, and I’m anticipating the new friendships in the making.

Giant Blue Container Ship and Small Red Tugboat

The predicament here in this beautiful country, whether sultry summer, foggy fall, wet winter, or pretty printemps, is the coming and going of allies, fellow compatriots navigating not only the narrow roads but the wide cultural differences. I recognize that friendships exist in my life in seasons, for reasons–to teach me, to mature me–and I’m grateful for that instruction as well as the pleasure of rapport, no matter what the weather. But today? It’s Assumption Day in Luxembourg, and while this Protestant doesn’t understand why it’s a public holiday, my BEST friend is home from the office.  It’s summertime and, at least today, the living is easy. Cheers!

cremant

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again!

Who likes to go to the gynecologist? Wave those stirruped  feet in the air! Last week, this breast cancer survivor who, because of changed health insurance and fear of foreign francophone “female” physicians (but fondness for alliteration), FINALLY  had a rendezvous with medicine. Making the appointment was simple…keeping it was challenging.

Rather than using the telephone to make my appointment, I decided, because of my anxiety in speaking French over the phone, to simply go in to the gynecology practice and make the appointment in person. I had checked my calendar first, practicing the days of the week (in French) and reminding myself of the reverse order of month and day in Europe. Those things, combined with the math involved in converting military time to “normal,” gave me the confidence to march through that door, up to the counter and say swiftly, “Anglais, s’il vous plait?” The receptionist was gracious, her English good, and I walked away with an appointment card for the next week. I had repeated, “Tuesday,” with the woman, cementing that day and the 16:00 time in my head.

Next week Tuesday arrived, and we were in the midst of that hateful heat wave–90 degrees for several days in a row.  I did my chores and errands early, knowing I’d like to shower off the evidence of said heat wave before my appointment. All nice and fresh, bolstered with courage, I kept my appointment, only to have the receptionist tell me my appointment was the next day. Sigh…Tuesday had been lost in translation…Wednesday, I did my morning chores and errands, rushed home to shower off the heat wave before my appointment, and while toweling off, answer a call from the doctor’s office: she’s not in today, would I please come same time tomorrow. Thursday (still 90 degrees), I keep my morning obligations, do my chores, run my errands, and rush home to freshen up in the shower before my appointment. I arrive two minutes early, thinking there will be much paperwork to fill out since this is my first time at the doctor, but there is no paperwork, no peeing in a cup, no prior histories, just “please take a seat.”

When I’m called back to see the doctor (I only had to wait about 15 minutes), she asks me some questions about my medical history. When she asks me how tall I am in centimeters, I grin and say, “Yikes–I don’t know. We don’t use the metric system in the United States.” She looks at me sternly, asking if I have a calculator. I do indeed make that calculation on my iPhone (but okay, really I just Googled “how many centimeters is 5 foot 8 inches”). The doctor typed in the information I gave her. Next question: how much do you weigh in kilograms? Now, I’ve always been sensitive about my weight, always ashamed of being chubby. Her answer to my Googled number in kilograms was, “wow, that’s a lot.” The doctor then, in her less than warm and fuzzy bedside manner, asked, “Why haven’t you gotten your mammogram on time now that you’re in this country where you can get any medical test done and it’s paid for?” At that point, my eyes are tearing up as I relay to her that I have terrible global  insurance, not my host country’s social security assurance. She nods gruffly, then escorts me to the examining room, where I undressed behind a small screen. My only comments about the exam are:

  • There is no paper drape given for modesty
  • The examining “chair” is much for comfortable than the table in the U.S.
  • An internal ultrasound is routine
  • No blood pressure was taken, no listening to the heart, no breast exam

In the end (no pun intended!), this all-business doctor actually had a tender heart. As I was leaving, she patted me on the arm as she assured me I would get the tests I needed and I could contact her if I needed any further information or help getting my mammogram and MRI.  I paid for my visit, and made my appointment for next year–on a Tuesday, I’m sure!

MYTH #1: Air conditioning is not necessary in Europe. Today the apartment is in full “cave” mode–the outside electric shutters are down all the way, the windows are closed. It’s an almost-blistering 30 degrees outside. Celius. For those of us who have difficulty calculating 1.8 times the temperature Celsius plus 32, it’s 86 degrees, and the sun is beating down on the southern exposure terrace with the huge windows and beautiful views I can’t even see right now. In order to keep my cool, which is nearing depletion, I return to the apartment after my walk, let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and pray for relief from my compulsion about (not) using artificial lumination during daylight hours. This is day 3 of heat, with 3 more warmer days to come. And it’s only June.

When we were asked over a year ago by my husband’s company to provide a list of items we would like in our Luxembourg home, air conditioning was not at the top of the list, but it was more than halfway up (reminding me how grateful I am for the elevator!). The person who had requested the list scoffed in her French accent, “We don’t have air conditioning in Europe–we don’t need it.” Guess what, Valerie? When the estrogen runs screaming from your body faster than the cool air from your apartment and you have your own personal tropical climate raging with vasomotor instability (translation: HOT FLASH), the ability to cool the air is more than a luxury–just ask my husband!

MYTH #2: Ice in beverages is unusual in Europe. That much is true, however, when you’re hot and thirsty and desperate after a marathon through IKEA, you can claim ignorance on your premier trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, requesting “trop de glace dans un grande Coke Zero.” You think you’ve excelled at using a foreign language until the voice over the speaker says, in static-laden English, “you want ice cream in your Coke????”

MYTH #3: There is no speed limit on the autobahn. Not true. That’s all I’m saying.

MYTH #4: All stores are closed on Sunday.  That’s not true at all! The mini convenience stores attached to petrol stations are open on Sunday. In fact, you can fill your tank with diesel, purchase a delicious sandwich on a baguette, and buy hard liquor and a bouquet of flowers for your mom!

MYTH #5: All European beers are delicious. Aw geez–that one’s true!

MYTH #6: Europeans don’t like Americans.  I am so grateful that’s (generally) not true! The easiest, quickest, most honest relationships I’ve formed in the past almost year have been with my Dutch, French, German, Scottish, Luxembourgish, Irish, Romanian, Polish and Norwegian friends and classmates. Our cultural differences lend texture to my world, causing me to accept as well as give grace, spurring me to learn as well as educate. Here in this place, in this country, these are the kinds of relationships I covet, lest I tuck away in this dark apartment rather than experience the refreshing breeze of interaction before me.

Oh, Pat! I have been thinking about you and praying for you so much lately. You’ve been on my heart. Have you become accustomed to your return to 24/7 shopping and English being spoken? I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment after all your years of living in Zurich, then Luxembourg.

First things first! Your crockpot makes me feel like I can cook again–no small feat in this country, being unable to read labels and find ingredients! Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to adopt your slow cooker. It’s so wonderful to come back after French class in the evening and smell ready soup or roast or chicken. The aromas make our apartment feel more like “home.”

Yes, we’re still learning that darned language–finishing the second course level. Mark remains incredibly determined, but I’m ready to throw in the serviette.  I’m ready for a little more relaxation–Monday and Wednesday evenings are anything but!

Speaking of relaxation, I don’t have much of that compared to when we first arrived. You can probably comment on the syndrome of the trailing spouse who, looking for things to fill the time while her husband is at work and/or traveling, over commits to (good) things in order to feel useful and productive. I’m almost happy the programs will be coming to a holiday soon–I’m tired!

I’ve taken on the English Conversation group at AWCL–I was tapped for this as the current leader is returning to the U.K. Though it’s apparently preferred that a British person speaking proper English facilitates the group, someone fancied my lack of accent (they haven’t heard my trying-to-be-funny-West-Virginia accent) and my friendly, patient manner. Thank goodness they didn’t contact the Lockhart children or my husband for references! The group of women involved are a sweet, fun bunch; the nearly 18 expats are Italian or Spanish or Chilean, or Ukrainian or French, and who knows what else! I’ve said many times, “I didn’t move to a foreign country to be friends with just Americans!” These women are gregarious and accepting and work so very hard to improve their English. It’s a joy to spend time with them–and you know how I love correcting grammar!

I’m also serving lunch to the refugees at the Croix Rouge. I enjoy seeing them at lunch very much, but it’s not convenient for me to get there! If Mark has the car at work for the day, I can walk to the center, but then also stand on my feet for over 2 hours and walk home 35 minutes…yikes! I just haven’t quite figured out the bus route, despite the fancy schmancy app on my phone. I’m ashamed to be complaining about getting to the refugees…imagine their voyages to make it to a safe place…

I lead a Bible study for women on Monday mornings. It’s the way I need to start my week, to ensure my heart is in the right place, because we all know what’s down in the well is what comes up in the bucket! Mark and I also attend a small group from church on Tuesday evenings with wonderful people from all over the world. Once in a while, we spend the Sunday morning service either helping in the nursery with the wee ones, or before service starts, we greet those who come to church.

I sit at the welcome desk at AWCL for three hours on Thursday’s. (I get so see your friend Pauline when she comes to scrapbook. She’s a lovely person!). Answering the phone or being a smiling face for someone new to Luxembourg–I think I’m equipped for that =)

We’ve had a couple visitors and look forward to having more! It means so much to have someone here, seeing where we live, how we live, that some parts are wonderful and others are quite tricky. It’s fun to “show off” this country and the people and the beauty. I know folks think it’s a grand adventure to live here–and it is–but it’s not easy. I’ll stop there, lest I complain about silly things that don’t really matter!

It’s been a privilege and such a blessing to us to see our children flourishing in our absence. They’ve all had great success at work or school this year, and they seem to have grown closer as siblings. That part–that huge distance–still hurts my heart and brings a lump to my throat. I can’t fix it, so I pray it changes me for good.

I believe people are in our lives for seasons–to teach us, to love us, to encourage us, to challenge us. You, Pat, were the most welcoming person to me when we arrived. I’m so grateful to know you and won’t forget you, as I try to follow your  sweet example.

Take care and keep posting beautiful photos of Alaska!

Hugs to you,

Diana