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One year back……

One year back.

This was me in December of 2009 in the Algarve region of Portugal. Running towards the ocean feeling truly free for the first time in my life. For the first couple weeks I woke up smiling and/or laughing – LITERALLY! I always had this dream to live in another country and I honestly never thought it would happen. But sometimes life present opportunities and you have to follow your heart. I followed my heart when I met my husband for the first time and I followed my heart when he asked me if I really wanted to make the move.

I already spent this whole blog talking about how amazing the experience was so I won’t go there again. This is a final post just to talk about life since I have been back.

It’s been a crazy year to say the least. First of all I am still waiting for my husband’s paperwork to go through so he can come home. One year without the love of your life and your best friend by your side and sometimes the pain and loneliness is unbearable. I cried my eyes out at the airport. I cried almost every night before I went to bed for a month. I stole one of his work t shirts and I slept with it next to me for the first week. That shirt has come with me to every house I have stayed in. Even now in OUR new apartment, I have it hanging on a door in the bedroom. Still has dried paint stains on it. 

The first couple days I stayed with my dad and step mom and took it easy. Then I went to stay with my cousin. She was amazing. She took me everywhere. I needed to renew my license so like day 4 I was already in a DMV in NJ. Wow. I did not miss that one bit. We were there forever. By the time I got to the counter to have my photo taken I was so annoyed after one try I said “Eff it” and had them print it. It may be one of the worst pictures of me that exists on the planet. Every time I am asked to show it, I cringe. I needed to do some food shopping as well. Wow. I forgot how vast an American supermarket could be. Now there were a couple large ones in Portugal but nothing comes close to what we have here. I literally stood in the deli/veggie section just staring with my mouth open until someone banged into me and knocked me back into reality. Not only that but I had no idea how technologically advanced the supermarket had become. I had my own personal scanner to which I could scan and bag my items, go to a register, and cash myself out. Beautiful. Damn. I was gone awhile.

I wasn’t back long before Hurricane Sandy hit either. That was fun. We lost power in Montclair.  Now, we did not suffer like most. I must make that very clear. But after being gone so long, coming back to a hurricane, no power, and gas lines- well that, was an experience. I had an interview that was scheduled that week too. That was obviously cancelled. But good news was that I did have the interview and I did end of getting that job.  Didn’t stay there long though…. but that is another story.

I have to say when I received my first paycheck in three years, it was magical. Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed having all that time off. But I also lost a part of my independence. My husband was amazing. He worked his ass off and handed the money over to me and I paid the bills and took care of shopping. But things were rough there. We did without a lot… I didn’t have any extras like I had here. It was an extremely humbling experience. That being said, when I got my first check I was jumping up and down. For the first time in years I had a decent amount of money and I could spend it all on ME! See when you’re here and in the moment and doing your thing, you take so much for granted.  As Americans, this is very true. Now I am not here to judge but it is what it is. Priorities were very different living overseas.

So I bought myself clothes for work, creature comforts, paid some bills, etc. And pretty much did that over and over until I had enough money to get an apartment. It took just under a year for me to get enough money together to move. I could probably done it sooner but I like having a social life and I needed to see lots of people. Whatever. You gotz to enjoy yo’self, right?

As hard as it has been without my husband, there is one positive. For the first time in my life I did it on my own. Now of course I had help from family and friends. I will get there. But what I mean is I never lived alone. I never had to put any bills in my name. I never had to find an apartment by myself. The first time I left home I moved in with my boyfriend and his friend and then it was just me and my man and he took care of all that. Then when we broke up I went right to my husband’s place. So this was a much needed experience. Now I can say, “Yes. I lived on my own and paid my way with my money.” Even if it is short lived, I still did it. I am still doing it. And it feels wonderful. I appreciate every single thing I have so much more now.

Now back to the support. I have to say this. And I mean it. I would have never been able to do what I did and then come back with essentially nothing without the amazing people that are in my life. No way. No how. I am truly lucky and truly loved and truly blessed by the people in my life. And it hit me like a ton of bricks when I came back and was received with open arms. Not once did anyone ever make me feel bad about leaving. Not once did anyone give me shit about not thinking things out better and planning better. And maybe they wanted to. But they didn’t. Even my dad who can be my toughest critic asked me one time if I was all worth it. And was truly supportive when I said “YES!”

I don’t know if any of the people that helped me will read this. But if you do, you know who you are. You know how much I appreciate(d) it, you know I love you, and you know I would do the same for you. At least I hope you do. And I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart. I could not have done this without ANY of you! Sometimes it takes going away for a while and coming back to realize how good you actually had it.

You know I was looking on my Facebook feed and I saw that a friend from Portugal posted pictures of her and her family. I don’t know why but looking at these photos caused me to be overcome with sadness and I felt a pain in my gut.  And I didn’t know all of the people in the photos or where they had been taken but I was looking at their house, the way they were dressed, the names of everyone, and it was just, well, all so Portuguese! It just made me miss it very much. It is strange how looking at a photo of someone you don’t even know in their kitchen can make you feel so emotional. But it was tears of happiness. Happiness because I got to move across the Atlantic, get to know my husband’s family, meet so many new people, see so many beautiful places, learn a new language, a new culture. I mean how amazing is that? And it will be something that will make the bond between my husband and I that much stronger. We did this together. We have these memories. We have stories and memories for the rest of our lives!

But at the end of the day. It is great to be back.  It has been one hell of an awesome year! I have seen so many people, done so many fun things, met so many new and AWESOME people that I can’t wait to introduce to my husband. Damn. It feels good to be back. It feels good to be me.  I am lucky.

I just need my best friend, partner in crime, love of my life to return safely to our new apartment so we can begin the next chapter of our lives. Who knows what is next. I can’t wait to find out!

Até logo Portugal

Dearest Portugal,

They say all good things must come to an end and in this case, it is sad, but true.  My three year love affair has come to a close. But I will never forget you and all that you have done for me.  Living here has made me a better person. I can say that without a doubt. I have been surrounded by the most generous, humbling, amazing, and wonderful people.  In fact, I am truly lucky to have been able to come out here and put myself into the worlds of people around me and be accepted as one of them.  Lovingly I am always referred to as the “Americana” but I have never felt like an outsider.  I was able to share their laughter, their tears, their trials and tribulations. To be able to help in my own way and also accept help from them.

Wrapped in the warm blanket of the sun and smiling, happy, people around me, I feel safe here.  I walk around my neighborhood and have a plethora of people to say hi to and visit with. I have spent plenty of days alone but have never felt lonely. Whether it was a stop at one of the many cafés, a trip to the fish market, the butcher, or even the supermarket, a familiar face is never too far away.

Living here has taught me to appreciate my life more. Appreciate what I have and not be envious of what I don’t have. I have literally had to learn how to make a $1.00 out of .15 cents more than once. Living at that line, that very thin line between not knowing how to get through the rest of the week, let alone the month. But being able to make the best out of it and laugh and not let it negatively affect the relationships around me.  That is not something you learn at university.  Living here has made me more tolerant and understanding. It’s not about what the person can do for you or what they have. It’s about the person themselves and getting to know them for them. And trust me, you lose these values schlepping around the city trying to win the rat race on a daily basis.  

And now it’s time to talk about my in-laws, the patient, sweet, generous, and loving in-laws to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude and thanks.  I have to say my mother-in- law and I now get along wonderfully but it was a long time coming. She wasn’t as patient with the language barrier and to her, my strange ways of doing things. For a long time she would just waive me off with, “Ela não percebes nada” (she doesn’t understand anything) and move on. But I refused to give up. I kept trying and trying and trying and eventually my hard work paid off.  Now we shop, cook, bake, and gossip together. I do not always understand her and she does not always understand me, but somehow we make it work.  My father in law was a bit easier. He is a man that likes to sit and chat and has the patience of a saint. He never gave up trying to explain something to me. He just found different words until I got it! It took a long time to get to where I am with them but all of that hard work has paid off. I truly love spending time with them and listening to their stories.  I will definitely miss our long lunches in the kitchen drinking wine, and talking about the way things used to be and how different they are today. Afterwards taking the short stroll to the local café where friends greet up with the upmost excitement and kindness.  Sometimes my father in law reads the paper to me and we discuss the day’s stories. Sometimes my mother in law and I will gossip about the local weirdo hanging out in the café.  And sometimes I just sit there quietly drinking my espresso and aguardente, listening to the locals bust each other’s balls. It’s a quiet, simple, safe life I have grown quite accustomed to.  One that I will also deeply miss and probably never know again and one that I have been forever changed and humbled by.

Learning a new language is one hell of a challenge, especially at my age. It’s one thing to learn in school and take a test. It’s another thing when your husband walks out the door to go to work and leaves you with your in laws who do not speak a lick of English. Honestly, looking back, I have not effing idea how I did it. And my Portuguese is still far from perfect but I understand a whole hell of a lot. Even my husband looks at me sometimes with complete awe when he goes to translate and I say, “Oh, they’re talking about this, that, and the other thing…”  That is a GREAT feeling.  It’s wonderful to be able to “get the joke” and let me tell you that does not happen all the time. But in the rare instance when it does, I am loving life for that moment. To be in on the joke, to really get it, and not to have everyone stop and wait for the translation is TRULY amazing! Also when you learn a language by being thrown into it not only do you learn how people really speak but you learn dialects and accents.  When you learn in school you will be taught the “proper” way to speak which is great. I am not taking anything away from that. But when you learn from friends and or family you learn their way. Because of this I can now detect certain accents. People from Alentejo have a more melodic way of speaking. For example when they say, “Boa Tarde” (BO Tard) it sounds like, “BO-A Tard-ee” The sound lingers a bit longer than when someone from Lisbon says it.  People from Algrave (my family) are like people from the south in the states. They tend to compact all the words and syllables together which makes learning this language THAT MUCH HARDER! Let me give an example.  I kept hearing what sound like people saying, “ma …., ma…..”  One day I said out loud, “What is this ma everyone keeps saying?” My sister in law who understands English and my husband just looked at me and laughed. “It’s not ‘ma’, it’s ‘uma’. As in the feminine version of ONE. For example you would say I need one more chair. Eu preciso mais uma cadeira.” That’s when you have an OOOOOOO moment.  And I have had plenty of those. But when you don’t know the dialect and you don’t know the language, these things can be very picky.

Luckily my sister in law speaks with a more Lisboetta accent and taught me to properly pronounce and understand words. Otherwise I would sound like a constant mush mouth. No offense to my in laws but you sort of need to learn how to say things properly before using the slang.  Otherwise you sound like the Russian dude in Clerks saying something like, “You wanna make fuck with me?” Not good.

Anyway I will miss all of it. Of course there were plenty of things that were hard to adjust to but I am not going to get into that. Better to focus on the positive.

Some little things that I will miss are the weather. Oh man. I have not had to deal with winter for three years. I was pretty much able to throw out my old winter jacket. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that though because now I am coming back before winter sans jacket. Oh well. I will miss listening to my mother in law humming and or singing Old Portuguese songs while doing her daily chores. There was always something very calming and soothing to me about this.  I will miss the loud, crazy, boisterous family lunches and dinners on the weekends. There were nine of us on a normal day. Add wine and good food, and forget it. Hilarity ensues.  I will miss that closeness you feel to everyone in your neck of the woods. It’s nice to talk to your neighbors and know just about everyone when you are walking down the street.  You never feel very alone which was important to me because I did spend quite a bit of time alone here. I will miss seeing my youngest niece grow up. She is so darling and cute. She was so incredibly shy when we first arrived. It took her literally three weeks to start talking to me, and four to talk to my husband. And that’s her godfather! But once she started, she never stopped. She is quite a character and always makes me laugh.  She also had a hand in helping me learn Portuguese. She would come home from school and teach me what she learned that day! Priceless!  I was looking forward to seeing her grow into herself and seeing her become a young lady. Now I have to do that from afar.

I will miss the sheer beauty of this country. I have never taken it for granted. I am still amazed when I see a castle in the horizon, or some Roman ruins, old houses, and hand crafted sidewalks.  I will miss all of the palm trees, birds of paradise, and other beautiful fauna and flora of Portugal.  I will miss the green of Alentejo and the dark, old beauty of the north.

I am definitely going to miss the food. Jesus Christ the food is amazing here. I am going to miss being able to go to the vineyard with my 5 liter jug and be fill it up. And fill it up cheaply, to boot! I will miss the beaches here. This side of the Atlantic is so beautiful. Every beach has a personality all to its own.  I will miss the long, windy, curvy roads that take you up and down mountains overlooking the sea. Quite a spectacle.

Well I could go on for days but I think those of you reading this will get the point.  And so with that said, I will bid not goodbye, but até logo (so long) to Portugal. I hope we will once meet again.

Beijinhos e Obrigado


Good life of a dog

This one if for my father in law and his dog that died this year, Ladi.

You know I am really going to miss my in laws, my father in law especially. I have learned so much from this man. A stubborn Old Portuguese man meets a stubborn younger independent American woman.  Seems like a recipe for disaster but somehow it has managed to work itself out.

He is always telling me a story about the past or trying to teach me something new. I love it. I really enjoy hanging out with him. So one day after lunch we went for coffee and drinks and when we came back to the house we were just sitting outside. I happened to be staring at the dog and I said, “A vida de um cão?” or “Dogs life, huh?”

He laughed and then said he had a story for me and that story and it goes a little something like this…..

A father made his boy come out into the field to work with him. The boy kept noticing that the family dog was just lying around while they were working hard. The boy says to his dad, “Dad, I want the life of a dog!” So the Dad says, “OK. No problem. You can stop working and go lay down with the dog.” Excited the boy happily obliges. Later at dinner everyone goes to grab their seats and when they boy sits down his father says, “What are you doing?” The boy answers, “It’s dinner. I am hungry.” The Dad says, “Sorry but you’re a dog now. You have to sit under the table.” The boy, unhappily, listens to his father.  After dinner the father bends down and puts a bowl of bones under the table and says, “Here is your dinner” The boy is upset and turns to his Dad and says, “Dad I don’t want to live the life of a dog anymore!” 

I laughed and told him maybe the life of a dog was not that great.

OK so this is the story more or less in a nutshell. And the reason I chose to share this is because it’s typical conversation with my father in law.  I have enjoyed learning from him these past three years. I mean it’s always smart to respect your elders and listen to the stories they tell you. But it’s even cooler when you get to do it in another language…and you actually UNDERSTAND it!!

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