Outside the Box: The ExPat’s Dilemma

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As I walk through yet another cardboard maze on my way to the kitchen, I can’t help but wonder if there is some underlying issue in me that needs addressing. Should I have kicked up my feet on some black leather couch for an hour a week with a psychological counselor instead of TripAdvisor? Should I have been content at some point to embrace the sunset, the peace and finality it depicts instead of chasing the next sunrise and the hope of the new beginnings it promises? After so many relocations, how can I still feel the spark of excitement igniting within me as I grip a roll of packing tape and yet again seal our precious belongings?

Eight years ago, I gave up my career to stay home with my daughter who was almost three years old at the time. My husband was offered a higher level position within his company. With it came a fatter paycheck and the opportunity to pad his resume while gaining much experience in his field of expertise. It also came with a relocation, our first in a series of relocations for our family. My husband, born and raised in a military family, had a different perspective on relocations. I, born and raised in the same state, same town, same house until the age of seventeen, longed for my children to experience the stable comfort of the familiar. Yet, as much as I entertained those visions, a fire I never knew I had in me, was fueled. And so began my thirst for new adventures, next chapters, clean slates, and a passion for the unknown.

However, there are a few known facts about relocations. Facts whose presence makes me feel a bit uneasy each and every time the moving truck pulls away. A truck carrying my children’s christening gowns, our wedding albums, their first tooth and their first teddy bear – memories that fill each moving truck near capacity. What the truck doesn’t hold are those memories that fill my own heart near capacity when I take my trip down the latest memory lane. Those moments, feelings, memories that aren’t gently covered in bubble wrap and placed in a box labeled “Fragile” to be carefully transported to the next residence where more are sure to be created.

As we embark on each new adventure, I think of the fact that relocation is often the cause of divorce for many couples. On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale for adults, “change of residence” is considered a stressful activity, assigned 20 points (with death of spouse being ranked the highest at 100), although other changes on the scale (e.g. “change in living conditions,” “change in social activities”) often occur as a result of relocating, making the overall stress level potentially higher. I think of the effort we will all have to exert once again in replacing our social network. I think of the challenge ahead of finding new doctors and a new gym. I think of my son and daughter once again being the “new kid” in school and all that entails. A study conducted by Ahamanson Department of Pediatrics, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA covering 9,915 children ages 6-17, found “frequent family relocation was associated with an increased risk of children failing a grade in school and four or more frequently occurring behavioral problems.”  I also think of all the tearful goodbyes that come with each move as we leave behind old friends that were once new.

I place the last item in the last box, take a deep breath, and can’t help but let my imagination wander through the new residence we will occupy in just a short time. In my mind I’m already pulling these items outside the box, and seeking out the perfect place for each of them. I picture the wall that will hold our family photo gallery, and the corner that will hold my dad’s old worn out Ricky Ricardo drum. I imagine just where we will place the Christmas tree this year, and visualize my family gathered around it Christmas morning. I carry the last box to the front entrance, and catch a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. I don’t see the baseball cap, the faded blue t-shirt and cutoff shorts that through the years has become my moving uniform. All I can see is the smile that lights up my face with hope and anticipation. And, once again I wonder if this spark of excitement within me is normal.

My top twelve tips when relocating your family:

  1. Communication among all family members is key. Communicate with your spouse as well as your children.
  2. Hold a family meeting where all members discuss their pros and cons list. Really listen to all the cons and discuss them, trying to find the positive while making sure that family member feels like they’ve been heard.
  3.  Go to your doctors offices and request your medical records in a digital format that will be easy to share with your new doctors. Same goes for school transcripts.
  4. Be prepared to “camp out” in the new place for a night or two while you wait for your household goods to arrive (we have fond memories of these “camp outs”).
  5.  Forward your mail even in today’s day and age when we receive more virtual mail than snail mail. The act of forwarding your mail can you give the closure you need in closing one life chapter and beginning another.
  6. If you have children, balloons can keep them occupied for hours in an empty house while you await your items. It’s also the best time to pull out some Play-Doh as it’s easy clean up.
  7. Make sure your children are set up with friends and family members phone numbers, etc. so there is literally no break in their communication with them. Nowadays, there are many channels for staying in touch – FaceTime, Skype, Texting, FaceBook, Instagram (great way to share photos of the new place)
  8. Look up the local Newcomers Club for your area. It is a great way to meet people and also get recommendations for doctors, restaurants, etc.
  9. Bottoms up! Drink up your alcohol or throw a party before moving. Open containers of alcohol will not be transported by some moving companies.
  10. Label the side of your boxes so you can read what’s in them even when stacked.
  11. Expect that you will be thrown out of your routine for some time as you adjust to your new life.
  12. Be patient. In my experience it takes 10-12 months before it really starts to feel like home.

Do you enjoy moving? Do you have any other moving tips? 

Related articles: http://www.blogexpat.com/en/summary.htm

Stretch Armstrong Does The Limbo!

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As a mom, I spend so much time looking for things that my children have misplaced. Of course, during my search, I also spend a lot of time lecturing them on how they wouldn’t constantly lose things if they would just put things where they belong. I keep hoping and praying the day when they place things where they belong will arrive soon, and my days of searching the house top to bottom will come to an end. Funny thing is, we recently had the opportunity to spend the weekend with some friends of ours. They are both adults, empty nesters actually, so they’ve raised their kids and probably spent countless hours searching for missing items too. Well, at least one of them I’m sure did. The other I’m not so sure about after we spent a good thirty to forty minutes searching the condo for his wallet. We were only there for the weekend, we didn’t bring a ton of stuff with us. We spent most of our days at the beach. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to find his wallet. I held back from giving my usual speech while four adults and two children split up, covering all rooms, including beach bags, kitchen cabinets, ice chests, and even the trash can. You never know right? Well, it wasn’t in the trash can. It was in his brief case. The entire time, his wallet sat in a place where you would think it belonged…inside his briefcase. However, precariously hovering over two compartments, it wasn’t completely in a pocket. Technically, it didn’t really belong there. He had checked his brief case a few times and hadn’t seen it. The wallet, being the same color as the bag, blended into the inside fabric. Upon first glance, it wasn’t noticeable. Upon further inspection, it really stood out.

In my current stage of life, I am that wallet hovering between two places in my life. Our family has been “temporarily” living in Puerto Rico for almost five years. We live in a furnished place surrounded by other people’s stuff. It’s a nice place. The weather is divine. We’ve made lifelong friends. Do we belong here? It doesn’t completely feel like it. During the holidays, we head back to our house in Texas. It’s a nice place. There, we are surrounded by our stuff and lifelong friends too. Do we belong there? It doesn’t completely feel like it. It has nothing to do with things, friends, or location. We are always happy to arrive at either place. We are always happy to catch up with our friends once again. At first glance, much like the wallet, we look like we belong.

As she unnaturally contorted her body under the limbo stick, Rhonda was secretly thankful for her power breakfast of four dry martinis with a side of toast. The shiny new Electrolux would be hers this year!

As she unnaturally contorted her body under the limbo stick, Rhonda was secretly thankful for her power breakfast of four dry martinis with a side of toast. source

The truth is we live in a state of limbo…not the fun kind, where you dance under a stick, usually at an event where the alcohol has been flowing freely. Our limbo is the kind where we are pulled in two separate directions, more like the old Stretch Armstrong I was always stealing from my brother when I was a kid. Sorry Stretch! These days I feel your pain!

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I’m afraid that’s going to leave a mark. source

The thing about limbo is you have to keep hovering, maintaining that balance because you don’t have the luxury of leaning too far in either direction. So, you go with the flow, enjoy your time in both states, and hope you don’t stretch out so much that you are never the same again.

Is there an aspect of your life that is currently in limbo?

How Big Do You Love Me?

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Like many families, the kids and I have a game we’ve played for years. It’s called “How Big Do You Love Me?” and the way it’s played is we try to outdo one another with descriptions of how big our love is for each other. For example I would say, “I love you as big as a rainbow” and one of the kids would say, “I love you as big as a mountain” and so on and so forth. I think the most creative example of Olivia’s love for me at the age of two was when she responded, “I love you as big as the tallest tree with the biggest elephant sitting on top of it.”

Through the years, a similar game has presented itself in my life. This one I call, “How Big Is My Faith?” I’ve encountered this game many a time and have found it more challenging than the one I just described. This game has pushed me to the next level during my dad’s illness and ultimately his painful death, during the trials and tribulations of relationships, when close friends have chosen a path separate from the one we were so blissfully traveling on hand in hand, and even when life has presented me with the difficult choice of stepping back and allowing a loved one to find his way without my constant guidance. It has also presented itself for my family and I when we’ve had to take a leap of faith in a move to what is undoubtedly the equivalent of a foreign country with unfamiliar customs.

However, the real test of “How Big Is My Faith?” came in the form of “The Ultimate Challenge” round. Maintain your faith while giving up everything familiar to you, including a church you called home not only on Sundays, a rector whose sermons stayed with you from week to week, and a family who might not have been related by blood but who came together in happiness, sorrow and everything in between. Your assignment should you choose to accept it is to walk away from that and enter a realm of the unknown, find a new church, a new inspiration, a new way of spiritual satisfaction. Not easy, but that’s why they call it “The Ultimate Challenge” and why if you complete it the satisfaction is greater than anything you could ever imagine. I set out to finish the game, beat the boss, complete the challenge and found many an obstacle in my way.

What I learned through it all is that my faith is bigger than a church and bigger than a sermon, but not bigger than God. I have had more time for reflection and have found inspiration within myself and in places I never dreamed of looking when I was sitting back and letting others feed my soul. I finally embraced my passion for writing and it has become an outlet for me in so many ways. It has fed my soul in ways I could never imagine when I was comfortably contained within my comfort zone. I am walking through life with my eyes more open than they have ever been, and allowing life’s smallest of details to inspire me. When I sit down in front of my computer, and let my fingers travel over my keyboard taking on a life of their own I know I’m feeding my soul and possibly others in the process. I know God is smiling down on me. And, as for “How Big Is My Faith?” well let’s just say it’s definitely as big as “the tallest tree with the biggest elephant sitting on top of it.”

For my friends whose life circumstances have left you feeling tired, like life has beat you down. For those of you who feel like your faith is not as strong as it once was and may question it and even God. We’ve all been there, but don’t be afraid to look around you, to dig down deep. Be open to new churches, new friends, new ways to inspire yourself and feed your soul. And know that as long as God is present in your heart, he will always be present in your soul.

One of my favorite Christian songs is by an artist named Nicole Nordeman. She wrote it for a close friend of hers who was in a place in his life where his faith was lacking or maybe even nonexistent. I leave you with her lyrics and video.

What if you’re right?
And he was just another nice guy
What if you’re right?
What if it’s true?
They say the cross will only make a fool of you
And what if it’s true?

What if he takes his place in history
With all the prophets and the kings
Who taught us love and came in peace
But then the story ends
What then?

But what if you’re wrong?
What if there’s more?
What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
And just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?
What if it’s love?

What if you dig
Way down deeper than your simple-minded friends
What if you dig?
What if you find
A thousand more unanswered questions down inside
That’s all you find?

What if you pick apart the logic
And begin to poke the holes
What if the crown of thorns is no more
Than folklore that must be told and retold?

You’ve been running as fast as you can
You’ve been looking for a place you can land for so long

But what if you’re wrong?

What if there’s more?

What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?

What if you jump?

And just close your eyes?

What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?

What if He’s more than enough?

What if it’s love?

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If you’re interested in spreading A TON OF HOPE, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Write about something that makes you feel optimistic.
  2. Post MONDAYS. Start the week off with a positive outlook.
  3. Grab a badge by going to your dashboard and clicking the IMAGE widget. Adjust pic size 200h x 200w. The image URL: (http://keepingitrealmom.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/project-optimism.jpg)
  4. Link over here and invite blogger friends to join in.
  5. Encourage the person who linked up before you. Kindness is contagious!

Year Of The Golden Handcuffs

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Have you ever had a time in your life when you knew exactly what you wanted and were totally and completely focused on getting it? What if that something could only be accomplished if something else actually took place first? What if you just kept trekking along on your designated path to your goal, but that goal always seemed a little out of reach? However, with full certainty you wholeheartedly believe the end result will be everything you dreamed so you are immobilized from deviating from your current path.

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2012 was that year for us…the year of the golden handcuffs. For us, it came in the form of a job opportunity for my husband. It required us to make some huge changes in our lives including another move across the ocean and a venture into homeschooling for the kids and I. It also meant once again walking away from our small Texas community, a place which has always provided our family with a great education for our children and fed us spiritually. Our reason for this new chapter in our life was to bring our close-knit  family of four back together after living with an ocean between us for over a year. It seemed the heartache of missing each other was in constant conflict with the warm fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by friends, teachers, and a parish community who showed us endless support. So…we maintain our current path with golden handcuffs securely fastened, in the hopes that the pay off will be worth it, with immense gratitude we have a job in today’s market, and full hearts to be together.

Yet, I can’t help but think of all the other aspects in our lives where we find ourselves in golden handcuffs. The New Year always brings with it the resolve to live a healthier life and so many of us enthusiastically take the path and willingly place our hands in the golden handcuffs of a vision of a thinner, fitter, body. We often welcome the golden handcuffs of all the climb up that corporate ladder promises. And relationships often provide the ultimate golden handcuffs…especially when we are in desperate search of that fairy tale romance and the happily ever after we so often crave.

Golden handcuffs can represent an impetus for a better future, motivation to better ourselves and our situation. Golden handcuffs can also become a restriction, an obstruction of progress, and ultimately the one thing keeping us from our true destiny.

What are your golden handcuffs? Do you see them as a positive or a negative?