These are the ramblings of me trying to figure it all out. It has been a long while since I posted; been taking time getting my head around things. When I close my eyes and imagine the future, where we will buy a home, what life will look like, honestly, I am too tired to even conjure up an image in my imagination. For now, I need routine, to get settled in a bit before letting any new ideas seep in.
It is hard to write, but “My Expat Life” is definitely over. I am still learning from all the things we have done and seen over the last decade living in Europe, but coming home, full-circle to where we began, has completed my life as an expat. It is a strange feeling when you have dedicated a certain amount of time to something that seems crucial to your existence as a human and then you simply give it up. It reminds me of the scene from Forrest Gump, where he’s running across the country for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours and then he stops mid run, in the middle of nowhere and goes home. That’s exactly how I feel. Mid step, mid plan, we pivot and change. It was a little abrupt this time, perhaps quicker than our moving to Hungary decision, definitely slower than moving to France decision, although when we talk about it, we cannot figure out who or how we picked Nanaimo. Living in Hungary during COVID-19, with Angelina in and out of hospital, political climates changing, the market just hot enough to make the move fisabile; made the decision to come home an easy one. There were other factors as well of course; our businesses were in tourism and real estate, both tanked during COVID quaratines. Once we made the plan, we ran with it and came home. Again, the path opened up just as easy as the times before; the universe lined-up all the things perfectly to make this move happen for us; in exact percussion of The New York Philharmonic.
Of course coming back home brought up lots of mixed emotions. The smell of the ocean air hit me as I got off the plane. That familiar smell that I had missed so much that is just as much a part of me as the DNA I carry. That cool, fresh and salty wind against my skin brought back a lot of memories and a sense of being home. I left a place I love three times and at that moment I let myself feel it. It took a moment to regain my composure.
The adventure on one hand has finished, and of course the relationships I had from when I lived here before have also changed. Some have evolved and came to Europe via Skype and Facetime while others have died off completely and are in need of reviving. I image giving these friendships metaphorical CPR, breathing life back into them and carving out time to reconnect and enjoy their company. I believe I have some work to do in letting them know I am still here in some way; if they choose to reconnect that is. I totally understand that many may have moved on, and that’s ok too. After all, I am the one who left.
Starting again with new people in Nanaimo where I have never lived before also has adventure written all over it! Old friends bring a sense of belonging as we remember and share a piece of history, or at least hypothetically anyways, where as a shiny new life gives an opportunity to be whoever we want to be without the chatter of old lives telling us not to change. I guess it is human nature to want things to stay the same, and this is not a fault in any way; actually it is probably in place for a reason; instinctually out of some survival mechanism. I image our ancestors eating the same bananas with the same people for generations. They know that this banana is good, but the other banana is not. They trust those around them not to eat the other bananas, even if it tastes better; those are not our bananas. And they could be right, the other bananas might have actually killed us back then. I just personally want to keep evolving into something new; to grow in as many different ways as I can during the short time on this planet. Some prefer to find the same person in me which they knew before. Of course I am different; how could I have travelled and learned so much and stay the same?
I would say I am stronger, can say ‘no’ to people, and have opinions and experiences that have changed my inner dialogue about myself. I know who I am at the core of my being and I am fine with myself. And I am ok with not being everyone’s cup of tea. I can rely on myself, and do not need anyone to praise or encourage me. There is a fierce drive inside that doesn’t regulate by any status quo. The drive comes from a desire to observe and learn, and eventually evolve. I did not have this before. I feel openly and with no apologies. And I am not the clown any longer, as I will never again make myself smaller so that others can feel better about themselves.
Writing about our experiences over the past decade has created this prolific journey inside. Taking the time learning and listening to all the lessons going on around me, letting them take hold of my thoughts, they gently shape me into a new person. Giving experiences a chance to slowly seep through was a luxury to say the least. Most people, most of the time, are too busy to notice anything going on around them. It is not anyone’s fault per say, just that survival and working take up so much of our time. Having 10 years to fuffle around in pendulous thoughts, riffling through them, sorting and contemplating, analysing and reaching some understandings of one’s own character, shortcomings and strengths; can come off as a pretty selfish endeavor. In most societies this is a narcissistic waste of time, but to a philosopher like Plateo, Aristotle or Socrates, that was his daily norm. Waking up to answer the questions that arise in the course of a day, they sought wisdom and enlightenment. Why? To quench a thirst to gain a deeper understanding and to reach a certain level of thinking. When women put themselves in this arena, and take time to contemplate those big questions that trouble them, they are often seen as stepping outside traditional roles. Why weren’t there Philosophers named Xanthippe, Pythias or Herpyllis; I am sure they had lots to share about life and intricate insights being married to the most famous philosophers of all time. Just saying… a little food for thought.
Can a woman be a philosopher? While there were women philosophers since the earliest times, and some were accepted as philosophers during their lives, almost no women philosophers have entered the philosophical Western canon. No surprise.
I have noticed that here people don’t do that many things aside from work. In Europe there is a culture of meeting in parks and coffee shops for long chats, slipping away during work for a walk or picnic with family, planned and not planned meetings at beaches, in gathering places to drink a bottle of wine, sharing a meal and connect throughout the week, not just on weekends with family. Here, it seems anyways, people are hurrying home to relax in front of the TV, go to the gym, or perhaps a dog walk if they can muster, but people are far more isolated within their family units. I wonder if this is a side effect of COVID-19 or if this is part of Canadian culture I have forgotten. I got used to seeing neighbours, planning parties, meeting up at the movies, and driving long distances to see family. With close girlfriends we would eat in restaurants chatting about work, or meeting up in the evenings for drinks and catching musical venues. I miss the community culture created where ever we went in Europe; a circling of people around us that fed our need to feel as though we belonged. I think they were curious about us in many ways too, so it was a mutual exchange. I know you are probably thinking that these things take time and you might be right. Canadians have no problem making sure they have down time to recoup each day, whereas I need less time recouping and more time interacting. I am sure to find my way. These are still the early days. And as my children become more independent, I have more freedoms than others. I do recognise this point.
Now I seem to be mourning the loss of my old new expat life; the slower pace and the beauty of Europe and settle into my new old Canadian life once again. I had to get used to the big outdoors, the wide open spaces, the super nice people, the fully stocked shelves of shiny things wherever you turn and the mass abundance of take out food! Does that make sense? Leaving the gleamy new life for something that should seem more familiar, however it is not the same place I left because Canada has evolved too, yet it is somewhat familiar enough to call ‘back home’. The old is not what I remember and the new has became my norm. It will take time to find my way again and to relearn Canadian life.
The journey also came with skills learned. When I started writing our family adventure blog I could barely string together an audible/ legible sentence (not that this garbled message today is a good example). It felt as though my mind was always on fast forward, trying to get to the end of my thoughts. Writing, or I should say, writing better, took patience and time (lots and lots of time) something I did not have the luxury of cultivating while working two jobs, raising little kids, going to school, going to the gym or volunteering for school events. I simply did not let my mind slow down long enough to revel in the things going on around me or taking the time to hear my own thoughts developing to understand my reactions to them. I had to relearn or listen to what actually makes me happy, angry, excited, or fills me up with a sense of belonging. I felt as though my entire existence was following what others were doing, doing the things we were expected to do. Funny how I thought I was happily going along when in actuality, I was always emotionally reacting in the moment and to all the stresses that made up my life. I was leading a life that was not authentic. I relied on instinct and for the most part it worked to get ahead, or at least for a while so I thought, but truly living, and I mean really living my life; I didn’t do a very good job doing. I had to tell myself to stop moving long enough to experience what life had to offer. It wasn’t about making money, buying things, redoing the kitchen, or travelling to the latest all-inclusive trip deal that popped up in my feed. No. I needed to learn the art of listening, and I started to really pay attention to the details of the things going on around me; those intricate interactions, noticing the fundamental things at play, hearing the birds and smelling the infamous roses. And once I mastered that, how sweet life became. In many ways I got to know myself without all the chatter going on around me. I took the time to deconstruct how I behaved and reacted, undo what I knew before, save the things I liked, throw out the things that didn’t work for me anymore and develop myself in ways that brought me to where I am right now.
So the question becomes, where am I today? Well in my opinion….
I consider myself the happiest person I know, only because I decided to feel this way about whatever life brings my way. The things I need to remain positive are on a very short list. I realized that what we think about ourselves has far more weight or is more damaging or impactful than what others say or think. We make the choice to believe them or not. It is in fact how we perceive our life that truly matters.
I am ever so grateful for my expat life. If every single person went on a walkabout to get to know themselves, the world would be a far better place because to understand oneself is the key to understanding others. It comes with self love, forgiveness, and a unequivocal acceptance of the people that cross our paths as you try to see the connections and similarities in them. People are more similar than different; we love our children in the same ways and want the world to be better than before.
All you need is love, as the Beatles would sing. They were definitely on to something here…
Knowing oneself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Life has a way of getting faster and faster as time goes on and insisting on time having currency (the idea of time together, down time, you time whatever you want to call it), does get harder and harder. Carving out time for contemplation and thinking about the big questions that come up, just like a philosopher, becomes harder when the kids get busier too. These teenage years have flown by, whereas the time in southern France when the kids were little seemed to go on forever, and ever. I will hold this memory close to my heart.
I learned a very important lesson back then and there living on the Canal du Midi near the Mediterranean Sea, and it was on how to balance work, rest, personal growth and others. To balance is to make something, such as a plate or your body, steady by keeping weight equal on all sides. Inner balance would then mean that all the systems within could remain constant no matter what external forces come into play; which also means mental and physical wellbeing and for me personally it requires remaining positive, and dealing with stress in healthy ways. Not taking on too much, remaining productive and making a living, but also having down time to learn and grown in. Keeping that equilibrium was about being present in the moments every day for my family and providing a soft place for them to fall at the end of each day so they could have a place to find balance too; a kickoff point from every morning on their way to school or work. The idea of home was created as a place to recharge, and to share and develop ourselves.
All meals together were a lovely added bonus of France as the kids came home for lunch. Most days we all would meet up at 12:00 sharp to break bread and have a moment to relax. Then it was back to the grind. Later we came together again, walked the kids home from school at the end of each day and together we would prepare our evening meal. Here we would discuss our day. This is the beauty of the French. They value time above all else. Balance was also about the commitment to time to decide what I truly like, what makes me tick and figuring out what life is supposed to mean to me. Focussing on ourselves felt right, developing ourselves while the kids were in school, and working less gave us a steady footing and helped all of us cope when things didn’t go right. It was the creation of a support system, but for it to work correctly we all had to be present. Before, I would give more than I got, I sacrificed all of my family time and my idea of self, and I fell into the trap of living to work. I worked far too much, on every holiday and my only reward was the money. I kept up with the infamous Jones’. I needed to learn how to put myself back on my to do list; to make a living, to develop myself, yet also create an environment where our family of four could find a balance together, to lean on one another, and for us to remain healthy internally and externally.
The actual art of balance seems nonexistent in North America, or perhaps there are pockets of people here and there that in my busy life, I never noticed. My experience has been moms work and drive their kids back and forth from school, to evening sports and weekend games, to dance and receptions, to church and back, to charity events, to work and back; running through life at mach speed. I am sure that fathers have the same hairy schedules too. I remember Alfonz coaching Daniel’s soccer team for a year or two as well. We gave up all our weekends. When I saw people for get togethers at our place, it was often squished between lunch with their mom, picking up the dry cleaning, or running to the shops. Once we had someone actually say, we have another get together in 2 hours. What?!! Then why bother coming? They said for the food! Well that’s not balanced is it? or fair to me? I spent days planning out that meal to slow down, to enjoy the company; not to quickly eat and send them on their way. I mean I’m not a fast food restaurant am I!? Or a free meal to take advantage of? Or to use! This would never happen today. I protect the balance I found at all costs, even friendships or money.
Once I learned the value of time, and how to say no to people like mentioned above, it was hard to go back to the routine of 9:00-5:00, yet here I am, Monday to Friday 8:45-4:15ish give or take as the tasks demand, with time before and after to take in the moments, making lists of things I need to forage for on my quick drive home. My new job is tenant coordinations, or housing operations where we as landlords manage properties in Nanaimo. It has lots of variety to keep me from getting bored, great people who make a very strong and dynamic team, who in my opinion are helping people get housing and have comfortable and even happy lives during these crazy COVID times. I feel my job in itself has an equilibrium. Yes we work hard, but with a clear purpose; a rare opportunity to combine charity and making a living. A single spoke on the wheel of something greater than myself. Maybe a very cool painted orange bike with loads of fancy gears, and brakes, a padded seat and a rat trap. Waking up feels good knowing that I am going to make other people happy with all the decisions and interactions throughout the course of the day. Yes it can also go the other way on occasion, but even then I feel that we are working towards a better world where housing is accessible to all. Saving the world one rental unit at a time. Like superman, just on a smaller scale and my cape would not be red and blue, but red and white like the Canada flag draped over me in a protective comfy security blanket. It is a good country after all. And I hope to help keep it that country for a little longer, at least until the kids grown up and find their own paths. Here’s to hoping!
Setting up a life here is not so easy on the tail of COVID-19, and the upswing of the variant; we brace ourselves for another round. The window for real estate is closing as the market went absolutely insane as mainlanders retreat to the island in some kind of idea of their own safety blanket, when people thought, if I am going to be in quarantine throughout my life, why not where I vacation, and then they moved onto the island in droves. I saw a bumper sticker that was in the shape of the Island that said, F-Off we are full! Many people all of a sudden realized that life could look a different way too. So many people that I have talked to throughout the world have an idea of fleeing to the forests and valleys, right into the heart of nature, isolating themselves and living off the land. They see chickens, and gardens, solar panels and water catchers; all very smart indeed, uprooting life to include some kind of post armageddon plan away from the millions. This idea is not new as the world gets hotter and our forests and oceans are killed off, in fact we have family trying to make this lifestyle happen as I write, and if I could wave a magic wand, I too would join the bandwagon and start food forests, biodiverse ecologically-sound mini biospheres that could ascertain if life as we know could revolve around these little pockets of life. I just don’t know if I could give up the convenience of what we are accustomed to. Beer and wine stores for one. Restaurants for another. Avocados, bananas, good coffee, hell even bad coffee…. you get my point…cheese platters, dinner parties, electric cars… paper towels…this computer… Maybe if I were fifteen years younger I would start a community built around this idea and have all my friends and family I love join in to create an off grid community based on these principles. Then the hard work making our own bread, cheese and wine would be met by others with the same goals in mind. Or we should just join an Amish community and call it a day. I think they might be onto something…
Now, thanks to COVID-19, working from home is an actuality… so people feel life on the island if the perfect spot to nest up for the long haul. They cannot be far off, after all we thought so too right? And I still feel that way. I walk along the water, through the forests, around the lakes and feel a connection to nature that is so profound. I am rooting into the community, the radicle beginnings of deep roots trying to find water to become one with my new home. From my window I often see deer families, rabbits, owls, eagles, ravens, the occasional fox or bear. And on nice days while taking long walks, everyone seems to be doing the same; simply enjoying the great outdoors.
I still have a ways to go to feel Nanaimo is my home, but I have had a strong start so far. As one door closes another door will open. I am ready to start the next chapter of my life; my new island life.
That’s the end of my expat life.
Thank-you for following along my journey.
Still pursuing happiness,