Starting again

When I started this blog in 2013, I never thought I’d stop. It’s been a little over a year since I last posted. I’ve thought about my blog from time to time, especially after each trip we’ve taken since. In 2015, the blog was mainly just journaling our trips. I miss that. Because even though I wrote about our daily lives in the beginning, it evolved into so much more. The whole reason that I started this blog was: to journal about all of our adventures. I’ve missed out on about two years of the places we’ve been able to experience. It was also the great loss of our Hershey that completely halted almost everything in my life. It left a gaping hole in my heart and zapped away any passion I had for anythingI thought the grief I had for my dad’s death was bad, this took it to a whole other level. It was almost like an avalanche of all the losses in my life came crashing down on me. It was so bad that I had to be treated for PTSD/anxiety and clinical depression, which is something I was already diagnosed with in 2011.  It makes every day a struggle.  I’m a very private person and have been reluctant to share something like this so publicly, but I no longer want to hide behind the stigma of my mental health.

Hubs and I just came back from spending five days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. And as I sit here this morning, a spark of energy came about me to start blogging again. It came out of nowhere. So, now, I want to dust off the cobwebs and start journaling about our adventures yet again. I want to be able to look back when I’m old and gray- and re-live (or help us remember) one of the most life changing experiences of our lives.

 

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Hershey’s Heartbreak

This has been one of the most difficult posts I’ve written to date.

2015 ended on a very devastating note for Hubs and me. We had to let our precious Hershey cross the rainbow bridge. It was one of the most excruciating decisions that we’ve ever had to make. But in the end, we had to do what was best for our little guy.

Chihuahuas have been in my life since my early twenties; I dog-sat for a family friend’s little one occasionally. She had such a fun personality. From then on, I knew this dog breed would be in my life forever. In 2004, I bought a little Chihuahua (Oscar) and in 2007 my sister brought another Chihuahua home; they became two peas in a pod. When I got married and left my family home, I couldn’t take my Chi away from his friend. About a year and a half of being married and away from my doggies, I felt that something was missing.  In January 2011 my sister sent me a link to a dog on Petfinder.com. His name was Hershey. I was a little wary of a rescue dog, only because of unknown backgrounds, temperaments and genetically predisposed diseases. Was he abused? What would set him off? But that all went away when we found out that he was abandoned on the coldest day that month, wandering the streets. He was found in a little town called Hershey, Pennsylvania. And that’s how he got his name.  He just happened to be the same color as the chocolate. Hubs and I went through the lengthy adoption process and brought him home on February 5.

It definitely took a while for Hershey to get acclimated to us. He wasn’t the typical cuddly chihuahua that I was used to. He was independent and had a whole lot of spunkiness.  Hubs would joke that he was probably raised by cats, or part cat. A few months after we got him, he was found to have bladder stones.  We had to do what was right for our family and got him surgery to remove them. After that, he continued to bring so much joy to us with his crazy antics.  It was becoming clear that his personality was so much bigger than his small stature.

Sometime in 2012, during a routine vet visit, the doctor found that Hershey had a heart murmur. No big deal. We had him on medication and fish oil. He went from a grade 2-3 to almost non detectable after a few months. We were thrilled!

In January 2013, we moved to Vienna, Austria. We wouldn’t dare leave him behind, so we made sure all the proper paperwork and medical examines were taken care of. This lucky pup got to fly in business class and did wonderfully on the long flight.  Given his antics, we did expect him to act up a bit, but he surprised us.

Unfortunately, his heart murmur got worse. At his first checkup in Vienna, his murmur has raised to a solid 3 or 4 on a scale of 6.  He was prescribed a single new pill, but stronger than the first one to manage it. Then, in March 2014, he was diagnosed with the beginning stages of congestive heart failure (CHF). The doctors assured us that with medication, dogs live very fulfilling and long lives. Little did we know that we were just buying Hershey time. By the end of 2015 he was on four different medications daily.  The medications never seemed to bother him, however.  He kept right on with his spirit and was just as feisty and playful as the day we got him.  Life was good.

In the early hours of December 27, 2015, we were abruptly awoken to Hershey’s heavy breathing, non-responsiveness, limp limbs, and fully dilated eyes.  I put my ear to his chest and heard no heartbeat, but he was still barely conscious. We rushed him to a 24hr Vet Hospital and waited for doctors to do what they needed to do. Sitting in that waiting room was painful. They came back and told us that he was stable, but in critical condition.  His condition was caused by a build up of fluid around his heart, the fluid prevented his heart from pumping correctly and supplying his small body with circulation. The doctors did mention the possibility of end stage CHF. He stayed for two nights to get a bunch of testing done and was doing better after they had drained the fluid.  Hubs went to pick him up on December 29 after work. They didn’t even get 50 meters from the front door when Hershey collapsed. Again, he was rushed in.  The doctors were puzzled, because they thought that this was idiopathic and not related to his heart problems.  In the two days he stayed at the hospital he had no fluid build up, but the moment we were to leave there it was again.  They drained it once again and the doctors gave us the option to have him stay overnight or take him home. We decided on the latter. Not even 24hrs later, we saw early signs of problems and went to the hospital to have him re-checked. I lost it when I saw the doctor’s face when she came back to us.  The fluid was back. Hershey’s quality of life would be abysmal.  He barely had any energy, and the feistiness we knew was mostly gone. It was then that we decided that we didn’t want him to suffer anymore. December 30, 2015 was the worst night of our lives.

Hubs and I never thought we could love an animal as much as we loved Hershey. We have been left with gaping holes in our hearts that can never be replaced.

Until we meet again, our dear Hershey bear,  you meant the world to us. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your life. We will forever love you.

 

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Life Lately: Trying to fit into the mold

It seems like my blog has turned into more of a travel one than expat for about a year now. As we’re inching closer to our three year anniversary in Vienna, I’d like to take time to reflect on what’s been happening during the last year.

The first two and half years were great. I was networking and making friends with a great group of women, my schedule finally had a daily routine, getting used to how Vienna works, trying all sorts of different hobbies, gave German a shot, traveled around Europe, and the world. Everything looked and sounded peachy, right?

Oh how I could be so wrong. How is it that every other expat is having a fine time adjusting to the culture and life here in Vienna and I’m not? Is there something wrong with me? It took a lot of time to figure it all out and then I realized what was really wrong. I’ve straddled two entirely different cultures and three languages my whole life. I didn’t learn English until I was school aged and even after that I still had to come home and switch hats to communicate with my family. I’ve been told several times in my life that I’m “too Americanized” by my relatives, so in order to please them I would dive into being what they expected of me.  So I never really had a defined identity.  Then I’m sprinkled into the Austrian culture, which is completely different from being American and/or Taiwanese – a seemingly disastrous combination.

I’ve only come across a handful of expats that felt the same way as I do living here. And to be honest, I know I’ve put off a lot of people when I’ve been brutally straightforward about my feelings of Vienna. I absolutely hate the situation I’m in here. And with that comes the “oh you just haven’t met the right people” or “you need to get out more” or “are you sure you are doing everything possible to assimilate?”. That’s when I shut up and shutdown. It makes me feel like my problems are not valid and are figments of my imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the friends that I’ve had the privilege to get to know here. I care and value them deeply.  There are so many great memories that I have with them. But, at the same time, there’s still a lot of room for my personal growth and development that I need to figure out.

Which brings me to “Well, what the hell do I do now?”. I feel like I’m stuck in a tunnel with no light at either end. I’m feeling completely lost. I know I’ve been told by several people that this is my chance to do something I’m a passionate about, a hobby.  It’s hard to keep trying different things and being disappointed with the outcome.  So what’s next?  Maybe I should look into underwater basket weaving…

 

Visit from the In-Laws

Last week, my in-laws came into town. It was my mother in-law’s first time out of the U.S.; she just acquired her first passport, ever, last year. Hubs and I were both “over-the-moon” excited to have family in town.  They were only here a relatively short time, but we packed in as much as we could in eight days. We took them to all the typical sights in town and even squeezed in Budapest for a few days. It always gives me a new perspective seeing both cities through fresh eyes. In Budapest, we all experienced sights for the first time, such as: Hospital in the Rock and a tour of Parliament.  They were, personally, highlights of their visit for us.

Before living in Vienna, I was never one to want to continue to return to places I’d had already been.  “One and done” was my philosophy.  I always thought that there were so many other places in the world to explore, why would I limit myself? One of the perks of living in Vienna, specifically, is that it’s extremely affordable to travel to neighboring countries and cities.  Luckily, we have two great cities nearby.  Budapest and Prague have been cities that I’ve frequently visited in the last two years and will probably continue to do so for as long as we live here.  We switch back and forth between them, especially when guests come to town.

On the last night, my mother in-law and I went to the Wiener Staatsoper to see Swan Lake. It was a magical end to a wonderful visit.  My mother-in-law said after the performance, “Now, I feel like I’ve had the full Vienna experience”.

We miss them already!

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Oh, the places you’ll go

It’s been a while since I sat down and thought about my expat life. I could ramble on and on about how it has changed me and so on, but I think I’ve covered that in past posts and those closest to me know how I feel about living in Vienna.

Originally, Hubs and I were only going to be here until the beginning of 2016, three years after we moved here. A few months ago Hubs signed an extension and we’ll continue living in Vienna until 2018. The thought of another two years tacked on, well it didn’t go over so well for me. Another two years in a place I heavily dislike? Ahhhhh!

However, there are two things that keep me from going over the edge.   The friends we’ve made here and the places that are still on our list of travels that we want to complete before our time in Europe is over.

This year is setup somewhat differently from what we’ve done in the past. I will be going on three trips with girlfriends.  Then both of us on two biggies, and the rest are long weekend trips. Although it wasn’t intentional, it leaves two months out of the year where I’m not on the move. This works out perfectly; keep the distractions coming!

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A Night to Remember

Last night was another “pinch me” moment. Hubs and I attended the IAEA Ball at the Hofburg Palace. As we entered the palace, it felt like we were stepping into a fairytale surrounded by beautiful architecture and ambience. There were several rooms that played different types music, so you could roam around and dance to classical, disco, hiphop, reggae, or pop music. It was quite impressive.

Did you know that the Viennese waltz is one of the hardest dances to learn and perform well? I had no idea! It looked so easy with couples twirling around in circles. However, we did see a few couples take a tumble. It was also wise not to be standing on or near on the dance floor, because you’d literally get run over by couples waltzing by.

My favorite part of the evening was spending time with good friends and realizing how lucky we were to be at a ball, at a palace, in Vienna, on another continent.

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Holiday Cheer

The holiday season begins at the start Thanksgiving, for us Americans. It’s also one of my absolute favorite holidays. So, it’s no surprise that we chose that time to go for our “home leave”. It was filled with lots of food and quality time with our family and friends. During and after our return back to Vienna, I was filled with sadness and I didn’t want to be here; I missed our life back in Maryland. It took me by surprise, because I haven’t had that feeling since the beginning of the year.  Here’s some highlights from our “home leave”:

 

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 This past Christmas has been a very special one for Hubs and me. It marked the first (ever) Christmas that we’ve stayed put. What do I mean by that? Christmas, New Years and Hubs’ birthday have always been lumped into one big trip or the one time when we were getting ready to move here (almost two years ago).

So to mark this special year I made a huge feast for us on Christmas, and then went to see the Nutcracker at the Vienna State Opera house the day after Christmas. The tickets to the Nutcracker were our gifts to one another for Christmas this year, but Hubs surprised me with another small gift on the actual day. It was such a magical day for us and made us question if we would want to stay “put” next year, too.  It’s still up for debate. There’s so much we’re grateful for. There have been so many amazing memories that we’ve made this year and I can’t wait for what next year will bring.

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Halfway

I can’t believe that we’ve been living in Vienna for a year and half now.  Technically, we’re halfway through our time here, although, I have a strong feeling that we’ll stay as long as we can. In the last six months, my attitude has changed about Vienna.  Dare I say it? Besides the Viennese people, I actually am starting to really like it here.  I can now understand why it’s #1 on Mercer’s list of “One of the best places to live”.  When Hubs and I travel to other places, I catch myself saying “this wouldn’t happen in Vienna…”.

Hubs and I have met some pretty amazing people that we’re privileged to call friends.  We’ve established a core foundation here that we never thought was possible, even six months ago.  Hubs loves where he works and the quality of life here is incredible.  Lately, we’ve asked ourselves “how are we ever going to go back?”.  Sure, we miss our family, friends, and some foods – but that’s all that we miss.  The things we used to complain about are dwindling and becoming the norm.

It baffles me, that in six months, things have changed for the better and I believe it will continue to do so.  I’m personally in a much better place.  Homesickness isn’t something that has come up.  I’m finally learning to embrace this life and truly appreciate this experience to the fullest. I can say that Vienna is “home” to me, now, without cringing.

 

Wir machen Urlaub

It’s not uncommon to see “We’re on holiday” signs in storefronts around town. It’s especially a popular sighting during the summer months. You see, under Austrian law, it’s required to provide at least five weeks of leave.  Which doesn’t include sick leave or the numerous holidays Austrians get.  Although Hubs doesn’t receive any of the Austrian holidays off (except one), we really can’t complain about the six weeks of leave he gets at work, either.

 
As you can see, some store owners get really creative with their signs and others keep it simple.

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Refocusing

This has been the longest stretch of time that I’ve gone without blogging. The main reason I’ve taken a break is that I’ve been busy “living”.  In the past, I was so caught up in blogging, taking an obscene amount of pictures, and wondering what to write about next, that I’ve forgotten to enjoy where I am and spend time with my friends.

A very dear friend of mine moved away at the end of May. It was my first “loss” as an expat.  It’s a known fact that expat life is a crazy roller coaster of emotions. Just when I was starting to feel established, my foundation developed a crack. Losing this friend sent me into a “mourning” period for about a week. It’s  made me realize that the time I have with my other friends may be limited, and this experience of “loss” has refocused my energy toward what’s really important. I will still blog about our travels and experiences, but not as often as I used to. I want to be “in the moment” and appreciate my time here. After all, one day it will be our turn to leave our friends behind and move on to the next chapter.