January: The realities of our unconventional choices hit us when Jeff lost his job in Germany. We spent the month looking for jobs all over the place, especially in Germany, and just trying to grapple with all of the uncertainty facing us without losing our ability to enjoy our day-to-day life. By the end of the month, we realized that it was time to face the fact that we would need to repatriate.
February: This would be our last full month in Germany, so as we did all we could to tie up loose ends and prepare to move, we also made our best efforts to enjoy being in the country we had grown to love over the last 7 months. Highlights for me were a solo trip to Regensburg to spend some quality alone time in the beautiful old Hotel Orphee; a tour of Amberg with a friend, including climbing the St. Martin’s clock tower. An important lesson I learned was to ask for help. My generous friend Elie actually flew out for our last few days in Germany, and was an incredible help and comfort as she spent time with Amelia and helped us pack up and clean out our apartment. This was also a bittersweet time of saying our goodbyes to new friends, feeling surprisingly loved and supported by so many people to whom we were essentially strangers. This was such a gift to me, and taught me important life lessons that would help me through our future transitions.
March: On March 1st, the movers came and cleared out our apartment, and we dragged way too many suitcases through the center of town, to the train station. We took the train to Nuremburg, where we ate Indian food for dinner and said goodbye to Elie as she headed back to Portland with our largest suitcase. Although there was plenty of reason to worry about money, and my husband and I tend to be very conservative financially, I am so glad that we chose to do a little traveling when we left Germany. Looking forward to visiting Italy and France seriously eased the pain of leaving, and our experiences there were definitely the high point of the year. Right after that high came our lowest low: arriving back in Portland and having my first medical emergency ever, landing in the hospital for several days. This was also the worst point in the year for Jeff: staying with our daughter in a hotel downtown, with his wife ill, having no job, and no idea what was next. Blech!
April: April was a real whirlwind of change! We drove all over the place visiting friends and family, staying for a week with my sister, and landing in Bend. We decided that we should probably settle in, and started looking jobs and a home to rent. At the end of the month, Jeff had an interview with the base here in England. He had been cautioned by the agency headquarters in the States that he probably wouldn’t get the job, but he went for it anyway. Well, you know how that story ended: on the day that we moved into our rental in Bend, he was offered the Lakenheath position, which would begin four months later!
May: Things were looking up in May, as we knew that employment was imminent. But it was a very weird time, squeaking by on unemployment, camping out in an empty house in a town where we literally knew no one. I had plenty of time to reflect and blog, and had fun sharing daily photos with you of the places we’d been lately. My youngest brother came and visited us, on a similar travel hiatus– between living in Korea and China. We packed picnic dinners several times per week, and made the most of living in such a beautiful area.
June: This month looked a lot like May. We were just sitting tight, trying not to spend any money. Oh, and we found out that we owed $5,000 in taxes. And that our home’s foreclosure at the beginning of the year had not completely resolved, and we were being pursued for a secondary loan. And my hospital bills started rolling in. We filed for bankruptcy. It was a really hard decision, but one of the best ones we made this year. Then it was time to pack up again and move out of our new home. Fun stuff!! Actually, there was fun stuff. We spent a lot of time together as a family, and we really enjoyed Bend. While we were living there, Jeff got to be the primary parent for Amelia, which was a nice change for all of us while I finished up my school year. We also had friends visit us there, and one of my brothers and his family came out on a road trip. It was really sweet to spend time with them, and fun to have visitors, even if we didn’t have enough plates to feed them on.
July: Talk about an awkward stage! We wandered. We had no home, and we stayed a whole bunch of different places, packing and unpacking our suitcases ever other day for a month as we got ready to leave. I remember being so anxious at this point– that something might go wrong, that we would somehow never get here. Every day I braced myself for some terrible news or insurmountable obstacle– what would happen if our plan fell through? We were broke, had no jobs, were exhausted… It was definitely a mental battle.The highlight of this month was getting to fly to Chicago to see my brother and his wonderful family. It had been way too long, and one of my biggest regrets when we left for Germany was that I hadn’t been able to visit them yet. I had a really sweet, restful time with them. On the last day, I got carried away while playing on some slacklines, and re-tore my ACL, which had been surgically repaired 8 years earlier. That was definitely lame, and the timing was terrible! I sat around icing my knee for the last week in the States.
August: At last! On the August 1st, we finally boarded our plane bound for England. It was such a relief to be en route to our future here. The idea of a job, a paycheck, and even just two weeks staying in the same place sounded amazing. We were met at the airport by the same dear woman who met us in Frankfurt to get us settled in Germany last year! It was so good to see her, and for all of us to realize we had made it through a crazy situation, had persevered, and were back on track, in Europe. She took us to the cottage she had reserved for us, and it was out in the middle of nowhere, in the country. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and so peaceful. But it was so hard being so isolated. We didn’t have internet or telephones. I had a meltdown over the fact that the water tasted terrible. (It’s easier to fall apart over gross water than a year’s worth of transitions and disappointments.) Jeff discovered right away that his new co-workers are really wonderful people, and that this job would be much, much different and better than the one he had in Germany. The hunt for a home began, and took a really long time. I just wanted to settle into my home already, but it didn’t work out that way. But we started exploring a bit, and really began falling in love with our new country. Our first trip to the English coast was a highlight.
September: You are probably exhausted by now, but we’re almost done! We found our home at the beginning of September. This was an amazing feeling. Jeff and I couldn’t believe that we would get to live in such a wonderful house– it is absolutely perfect for us, and even now we sometimes still can’t believe it. It was a real test of our patience to have to wait over a month to move into it. I was SO tired of moving around, of everything being temporary. I had Nomadic PTSD, for sure. We moved into a little place a block away to wait it out. We distracted ourselves by spending the weekends driving all over the country side. This was so good for my soul! I loved seeing all of the gorgeous land, stopping to feed horses along the way, and finding all the groceries we needed at farm shops and little stands along the roadside.
October: Home, at last! I cannot tell you how good it felt to move in, and to also have all of our goods from Germany arrive here. We finally had our own dishes, mattresses, and furniture. Things fell into place quickly, and we focused on getting everything arranged in preparation for my knee surgery. I was pretty anxious about being alone here after the operation, and it was one of the hardest things to face on our own. But we did, and we survived. The surgery went well, and I was just so thankful to have this sweet home to rest and recuperate in.
November: I spent a couple weeks laying low after the surgery, but once that was over, I felt like I had overcome most of the year’s major obstacles. We are here in England, the Jeff’s job is solid, we are in our home, Amelia is in school, and my knee was finally fixed. Whew! We had a very happy Thanksgiving celebration, just the three of us. Seriously, we could not be more thankful!
December: And here we are, at the end of the year. This has been a very slow month, and while these winter days are challenging for me, it is a good way to end things. We are resting here, mostly recovered from the trauma and excitement of the year. Jeff and I have been doing a lot of processing and reflecting. After a year like this, it’s hard to conjure an image for what we’d like for 2012, beyond relative stability, since we’re still reeling a bit. At times, we have laughed at how terrible 2011 has been. But it has also been incredible. We have faced our worst case scenario, and it turned out alright. We have never despaired, and have chosen to trust and move forward instead. We didn’t give up on our goal of living in Europe. We have chosen to enjoy ourselves, regardless of our circumstances. We have grown closer as a family, and have a deep sense of gratitude for all that has been provided for us this year. Still, we are SO ready to say: Aufwiedersehen, 2011!
One final note: This year, I am thankful for you. Many readers are friends and family, faithfully tracking with us and letting us know we are in your thoughts and prayers. Many of you are readers that I have never met, yet you have managed to provide community and help us feel known and supported. We were all over the place, and knowing that there are people following along with us, caring, through the year’s ups and downs gave us courage. I wish you a Phenomenal and Exciting (but not too exciting!) New Year.