Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cherishing the Victories - We're Halfway There...

As a runner, there is a huge sense of satisfaction and relief when I get to the halfway point in a run.  I can almost picture the proverbial hill suddenly making a turn downward and off I go.  If I can make it halfway then there is no doubt that I can complete the goal that I have set. 

In a way, that is the same philosophy that I have taken since moving abroad.  Yes, my first few months were rough, I know.  But since then, time has been marked with goals, just like my runs.  The first 6 months, the first year, and now, we have reached our halfway point this month.  Our time here, 3 1/2 years, is now officially half over. 

So how do I feel about that?  Well, mixed emotions to be honest.  Part of me sees a light at the end of the tunnel and yet that light is coming at me far too quick.  That's a feeling I never expected given that a little more than a year and a half ago I was counting down the days til we could move back home.  And this summer Josh had talked about an earlier departure of next summer and it actually freaked me out!  I'm not ready!  There is so much left for me to see and do before I can feel that I'm ready to go back.  But of course on the flip side, there is excitement knowing that we are on that downhill part of our run towards home again.  Of being (somewhat) close to making plans for our move back home. 

And the idea of making plans to go back home feels weird now.  Because as time goes by, life here gets easier by the day and we've settled into our apartment and our life here.  This past week I had to deal with losing Jake and then finding him again and the Spanish animal control system, reward posters, etc. It made me realize how far I had come and how much I had forgotten that it's necessary to cherish those victories in life, especially here, and no matter how big or small. That day, I kicked Spain's butt - it's been a while since I felt that way and I think it's because life is back to "normal".  I'm also a little anxious, I hear that it can be just as hard to go back home as it was to leave - will I ever feel like I truly belong again??  We've been living a life in limbo for so long, at what point will things ever be normal again?

So in honor of those victories, big and small, and making it to a big milestone, halfway, here are some things we've learned, found humor from or just found interesting and thought we'd share...

1.  Josh finally got pickpocketed.  Yes I feel badly but it was nice to know that I'm not the only one they target!  Goes to show it doesn't matter how long you live here, they'll get you eventually... Always, always keep your hand on your wallet or on your pocketbook.  Whenever I go home and see people put their pocketbooks on the back of a chair in a restaurant I'm just in awe that I ever did that - now I've got it slung over my shoulder even during a meal!!

2.  We will never own a moped - EVER... we made sure of that on our recent trip to Formentera.

3.  Home is where my family is, a house is just a house and we certainly miss it, but as long as my family is with me, I can survive anything!

4.  We've learned the difference between "need" and "want" and have learned to live with "less" (stuff).  Now to transfer that to our move back home, can I live without a weekly Target run????

5.  When we move back home, the 1800 sq foot house that we were outgrowing before we left will seem huge to us!  I especially can't wait to have my closet and dresser again - ahhh space!!!

6.  My true friends are still my friends and have proven that distance does not matter. 

7.  We've learned to appreciate our friends and family at home more since we don't get to see them very often. 

8.  Time really does help the healing (and separation) process.  It's hard to believe we've been here almost 2 years already!  And life feels "normal" again even though every day is faced with new challenges, those challenges are nothing compared to the ones I faced in my first 6-9 months here. 

9.  Learning another culture and another language is the hardest thing I have ever experienced but one that I will never regret and am thankful for the opportunity to have.
10. My children are great adapaters.  While it took Aidan quite some time, he has learned to accept and enjoy his time here.  Liam thinks of Barcelona as home more than Attleboro - that will be an entry in and of itself!  From no longer doing Halloween door to door (just a party at school) and changing their view on other holidays as well, and going from the country to the city, experiencing travel a world away from home and hearing a barage of new language on a daily basis, these guys are my inspiration. 

11. We've learned to slow down our lives.  No longer are we overscheduling and overbooking our lives.  Maybe because we have a smaller circle of friends, or we don't feel the need to keep up with the Joneses anymore (a self inflicted pressure) and have reduced our (ok, my) load of commitments.

12.  As a result of #11, we've also found we have better quality time as a family on the weekends.  While we've always cherished our time with our friends at home, as have the kids, we did not take enough time to be just the 4 of us. 

13. While I couldn't stand the food here and the brands were different than we have at home, once again, I have learned to adapt and enjoy what there is and have found substitutes for what I can't.  My kids amaze me at their food adaptability and have really never missed a beat.  Josh of course, is so flexible that it never phased him!

14. I've learned to think outside the box more, be more flexible and to roll with the punches.  While at home I may have pushed on an issue, here I find that while part of the problem is my inability to communicate well, I've also found that things don't bother me as much and I can let it go much easier... many ahhhh Spain moments!

15. The holidays are what you make of them.  My favorite time of year, I thought I might not make it thru them without my friends and family last year.  And again, I've learned to be more flexible and have learned that if I'm with Josh and the kids, that everything will be just fine.  We'll always have our old, cherished traditions when the time comes to move back home - that's the beauty of tradition, it will always be there year after year.

16. We have managed to go 21 months without a car - a feat I never imagined we would accomplish.  We have rented when needed but have done so maybe a half a dozen times or so.  There are moments where it is frustrating but overall, it's been beneficial to all of us and the environment (a plus!)!

17. Walking is fabulous exercise - when I've gone home I've felt like a total lump after just a few days in my car.  I never thought I'd miss NOT having a car but I do.  It doesn't mean I want to move to Boston proper when I get back (I can't imagine the winters in Boston and not having a car!), but it does mean I'll have to put more effort into walking places.

18. Investing ourselves in friendships here has been a good thing.  While I was ambivilent at first knowing our time here was limited, I am so happy with the great group of women I've become friends with here and am thrilled that we all get to share our adventures here together!  I look forward to many more years of friendship no matter where we live and where our lives shall take us.

19. If I never eat another tapa again, it will be too soon...

20. That while I'm excited to move back home in just 21 months, I'm also going to miss Barcelona and Europe more than I ever thought!

And while this entry makes it an odd amount, I need to add it as well!
21.  We have made the most out of our time here and have defined crazy traveler - in just 21 months we have been to:

ANDORRA:  Soldeau
CZECH:  Prague (Josh)
ENGLAND:  Leeds (Josh)
FRANCE:  Carcassonne, Paris, Collioure, Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Antibes, Marseilles
GREECE:  Athens, Hydra, Corfu, Paxos
IRELAND:  Fanore, Dublin, Killarney, Kenmare, Swords, Cliffs of Moher (not sure of town), Doolin, Galway
ITALY:  Rapallo, Portofino, Rome, Venice, Santa Margarita, Cinque Terre, Pisa
NETHERLANDS:  Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof (Lisse)
SPAIN:  Sitges, Castelldefels, Valencia, L’Estartit (Costa Brava), Ibiza, Lanzarote (Canary Islands),     Formentera
VATICAN:  Vatican City

SPAIN:  Marbella
GIBRALTAR:  Gibraltar
FRANCE:  Skiing – city TBD
FRANCE:  Colmar, Riquewihr, Strasbourg
GERMANY:  Freiburg

And while my top 20 list is no where complete when it comes to what we've learned and experienced, all I can say is it was all worth it. When it comes down to it, we've had an amazing opportunity to experience what a very very small percentage of people get to do in their lives... live in a new country, explore a new culture (or several for that matter), and absorb (or try) a new language.  It has made us stronger and yet at the same time, more flexible.  It has made us appreciate all that we have at home but also all that we have here - a better quality of life, where we slow down and stop to smell the roses. 

Where we have seen history like nothing we had seen before - if it was built before the 1700s then it's really not worth it to see now ;)  Just kidding... but it's funny how those things become such a part of life that you almost scoff at it... "oh that was built in 1725, well, it's practically new here!".  The fact that our children have been able to share in this experience with us and I know that they don't appreciate what they have here and the opportunity they have been given.  When we try to explain to them that many of their friends at home haven't left the country or been on a plane much less travel thru Europe, they still don't quite understand that impact.  I think they'll understand it more as they get older and reflect back on their time here.  Or so I hope!  At the very least they'll have this blog which I've had printed to read back on this time! 

But I've gotten off track, sorry about that!  Back to the fact that we are halfway there.  It really blows my mind that we have lived here for almost 2 years.  When people ask me how long we've lived here and I say "almost 2 years", I feel like I'm a veteran of this ex-pat thing, like we've done it and we've survived and if you are new here, you will too.  At the same time, I still think my Spanish is crap though people keep telling me it's decent.  I think I'd rather believe I'm not so good at it and keep working on it than get overly confident and not continue to work hard to improve.  And note to self, must get back on the Rossetta Stone wagon!  Today shall be the day, what better time then when I write about self improvement!

So not to continue droning on and on here but I never thought we'd see this day and that my feelings would be so ambivilent about moving home.  But the excitement is still there.  I look forward to seeing my friends on a regular basis and of course, my family!  To move all my things back to my house and stop living like I just graduated from college with my high quality IKEA furniture and bare white walls in our apartment.  Right now we have some things here but a good majority is in storage.  To redecorate and update our house as we see fit now that we've had some time and distance to envision what we want it to look like.  And I know the kids will look forward to their friends too. I know that if given the opportunity, Josh would stay here and you never know what might happen, one thing I've learned for sure is that the life of an expat can change at a moment's notice, but for now I'm sticking with the plan!


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