Craving connection

For me, it’s been a rough start to life in Brussels. I have been here since December 2nd and been sick for the better part of the time. It began with bronchitis, and now my husband and I are wondering if I am actually allergic to the mold and its various floating spores that we have found in several nooks and more obvious crannies around our apartment. In other words, it is possible that I am allergic to Brussels.


Being an introvert, I have not completely minded being apartment-bound for so long. On the other hand, I am typically an active person, and I crave time outdoors to fill my soul. Not moving and feeling exhausted all of the time has definitely been a challenge. Even when I do leave my indoor refuge, I feel like of like a voyeur, watching life happen around me without feeling like I am actually a part of it.


I know that John Muir has his famous quote about all things being connected, but I often feel like I am moving through this world on a separate thread to an entirely unique web. If I can just keep my own threads floating nearby and just beyond touching any neighboring webs, I am ok.


This floating can be lonely. An introvert I may be, but I still find that I crave companionship and connection.


January in Europe seems to be the time of sales. After much convincing and a final text from my husband to get out on the town, I took myself on a mini shopping foray this past Monday afternoon. I went downtown and popped in and out of clothing stores. By the end, I was exhausted and wound up even more sick than I had been. I realized also that I experienced very little joy in being one of dozens of people picking through discounted items of clothing in large stores, all anonymous, all void of connection. I felt invisible.


I spent the next several days resting, coughing, and blowing my nose nonstop. I only left the apartment to get groceries from a nearby store and to visit the clinic at the university where my husband is a student to try to learn more about my enduring health condition.


I had met the clinic doctor a few weeks earlier, when I was diagnosed with bronchitis. He was hilarious. When he saw my last name Lewis and the misspelling of my first name as Monica, he asked if I was Monica Lewinski and if I was hiding out in Europe. I responded that I was and thanked him for blowing my cover. He asked if I would be writing my memoirs from my time in the White House in order to make some extra money. I said I was hoping to be hired by the Trump campaign. And so it went on like this for a little while, quite entertaining despite my discomfort.


On this visit, he suggested that my sinuses were inflamed and explained that I had set up a five-star hotel in my nasal passage, perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive. I told him I prided myself on being the ultimate host. He said that time would tell what was going on with my sinuses. He thought it more likely that I was experiencing inflammation and an infection. If it were allergies, we would have to figure out what it was I was allergic to in Brussels.


Some people are affected by the dry air, he told me, and he recommended a humidifier or putting a cup of water out to add moisture to the air. I explained that we had mold in our apartment and so we probably didn’t need more humidity and moisture. It could also be pollution in the air, he said. If it’s mold, there are spores everywhere.


Great. I might actually be allergic to Brussels.


He wrote out a prescription for a nasal steroid spray and requested that I come back to visit him in a week’s time. While I wouldn’t say I had made a new friend, it was still somewhat nice to see a familiar face. Plus, a visit to the doctor in Belgium costs 25 euros, 17 euros of which will be reimbursed. This same visit would have cost me well over $200 in the United States, most likely being paid as part of an enormous deductible. Just sayin’.


Yesterday, I decided it was time to take myself out but just for a short venture. I took the tram to a street I like in the Ixelles neighborhood and popped in and out of much smaller, boutique shops. There, I could interact with the staff and also not feel completely overwhelmed.


I stopped by a shop that my husband found with beautiful earrings and statues of ghanesh, Buddha, and Shiva. My husband had bought me a pair of earrings with stems that were too thick for my teeny ears to bear. I asked the shopkeeper if it might be possible to swap them out for thinner ones. He assured me it was no problem and brought out a box of different sized stems to swap them out right then and there.


We struck up a conversation. I asked if he was from Brussels, and he said he had lived here all his life. I asked what he liked most about the city.


Le printemps (the springtime), he replied. Il va commencer dans deux mois (it will begin in two months).


I hope so, I responded (in french, but I though you might be over the constant translating). I miss the sun.


Where are you from? he asked. I told him I was from the desert in Arizona, so I was always cold.


Earrings finished and in my ears, I pointed to a shelf with two small statues of Shiva on top.


I asked the price and if I could look at them. He asked me how I knew about Shiva. I told him I had been studying yoga but that I didn’t really know Shiva.


He is the destroyer, yes? I asked.


He is that, but he is also able to help you concentrate and create. Many artists come in wanting a Shiva.


Oh, that makes sense. I am a musician. Perhaps, Shiva can help me create as well.


The shopkeeper, who I later learned was named Raj, told me that Shiva is the only Hindu god who is able to reach into your soul.


Shiva helps with interior work, he explained. Ghanesh will never enter into your being. You can only pray to Ghanesh, but it is different with Shiva.


I told him that I was also on the path of learning about my inner world.


I left the shop feeling buoyant. It felt so good to connect with another human being, if only for a brief moment.


I came home, thinking about Shiva and connection. I wouldn’t say that the threads of my personal web have reached out to intermingle with those around it just yet, but perhaps there was a small brush with silken neighbors.


It’s a start.


We come bearing bugs

Living in a foreign land can be intriguing. For my husband and me, it is often a source of trial and error, trying to understand how things work in a different culture and language. Questions arise for most activities that would be simple in the United States.

For example:

Will the #12 bus arrive at its designated spot at the airport so we can return home?

What do the little stickers do that they give you if you spend a certain amount at the grocery store besides look fun because they have little red reindeer on them?

What is the plumber trying to tell us, and is he actually speaking French? The only word I understood him say was thermocouple.

How much heat are we actually using?

Why do only some credit card machines want me to use a pin for my credit card? Do I even have a pin for my credit card?

The list goes on…

It has been my husband’s dream to live in Europe, ever since he studied abroad in the south of France and came to feel a part of a community of travelers when he was an undergrad. He had planned to return to France to live but instead got married and had children.

When I complain about this big transition from Arizona to Belgium, he tells me that it is my fault we have uprooted ourselves to move here.

I lived in Arizona for nearly 20 years. Then, I met you, and we were in Europe less than a year after you moved out here (out here being Prescott, Arizona), he is quick to remind me.

He’s right. As a dear friend recently noted on facebook, You are a child of the world my dear, OWN it!

Here I am, having trouble owning it, though. I feel the push and pull of migration. There is a desire to travel to new places and recreate myself mixed in with the equal wish to stay put, to be rooted, to feel like a deeply connected part of a place.

I am tired of moving and starting over, time and time again. In Brussels just over a month, and I find myself desperately missing Arizona. Though I never would have imagined that I would live in the desert, or that I would enjoy it, I came to love the cactus, roadrunner, dry heat, and perpetual sunshine of central Arizona. My hair was curly and manageable. There were beautiful trails around our home in the Granite Dells. Wet laundry dried in minutes! We had a family with our cats and husky puppy.

I imagine part of this desperation falls from having my immune system severely compromised after months of limbo, back and forth travel between the United States and Europe, and the stress of yet another significant life transition.

We were promised by friends and family that they would be coming to visit us in Belgium, and so far, even in my very brief tenure in Bruxelles, this promise has been fulfilled. Belgium seems to have taken on far more intrigue for friends and family than central Arizona in terms of scheduled visits. Within a week of my second return trip to Bruxelles, two friends from Canada and the US came to visit. I was barely adjusted to the new time zone and trying and failing not to freak out over the news that they had both succumbed to Noro virus, the 24-hour stomach bug that runs rampant in daycare centers, elderly folks homes, and on cruise ships.


I was horrified, as I had already gotten sick right after my first trip to Bruxelles. I spent a week cleaning every single surface over and over again with a bleach and water solution, doing all of the dishes and cooking for four people. In the midst of the visit, one of our friends succumbed to another bug (poor thing!), and the bleach washing continued. We had fun, but my overexertion to avoid illness took its toll. By the time the visit had ended, my husband and I had successfully avoided the Noro but I was so exhausted that I could barely move for several days. I had just managed to overcome some of my exhaustion by the time the second round of visitors came to stay. When they also gifted our environs with another set of bugs, my body gave up the good fight and I have been struggling to get well ever since. Out of a five day visit, I spent about three days in bed, my body feeling like it had been run over by a truck.

What have I learned from this experience?

1. December may not be the best time for visitors. In fact, I think I will not encourage people to visit at all during the winter months.

2. Timing is key. Those who do visit should come and see us at the beginning or even middle of their journey instead of at the end when they are exhausted and their immune systems are compromised.

3. Avoid overlapping with toddlers, who are basically animate petri dishes. If friends are going to visit people with toddlers, they should definitely plan those visits for after they come and see us.

4. Factor in recuperation time for ourselves and time for unplanned extended stays. In my case, I think I needed at least a month to recover from all of the visiting and the illness gifted to us by our visitors. After nearly a week in bed and a cough that refused to quit, I finally went to the clinic at the university where my husband is studying. I brought home a small traveling pharmacy with instructions in several languages, French being the most comprehensible but none of which I could understand all that well.

5. Do not plan further travel after back to back visits with virus-riddled friends. I had not factored in that I would get sick and we would then be the friends bearing bugs on a visit to dear friends in France over the new year. Traveling while sick is not at all fun, though I was lucky to be visiting with friends who are super loving and understanding. The antibiotics wreaked such havoc on the flora in my system, however, that I spent most of each day nauseous and counting down the hours to my last dose of amoxycillin. Forget the incessant cough that has kept me from being able to sing for my meals.

I have now spent about a month and a half total in Bruxelles. During this time, I have spent two weeks on two separate occasions, adjusting to the time change. I have been sick for about pretty much the rest of the time, but I have managed to befriend several trees and beautiful corners of a forest with trails near our apartment.

What do I think of Bruxelles so far? I think the jury is still out. I can say that it definitely has the feel of a European city, but I would not say that it feels like home as yet.

Long distance lament

My husband and I spent the first four years of our relationship traveling back and forth between different corners of the United States. Rich may have been living in Arizona the entire time, but I seemed to bounce all over the place, from Washington to Alaska to Massachusetts, with a much too brief stint in Arizona in the middle.

After four years, I quit my job in Massachusetts to move to Arizona, and we made a promise that it would be the end of long distance forever. Alas, like so many of my life plans, the universe seemed to have had a different idea.

When we first began wading through the many step, muddy process of shifting our lives from the United States to Belgium, we just assumed we would travel their together. Little did we know about the tangled web of bureaucracy we were walking into. The cost of two visas alone exceeded $2k, and while my husband’s visa was approved by the Belgian consulate in Los Angeles, my application had to travel to the home country.

Had we been less naive, I may have nixed the Belgium idea early on. However, by the time we discovered that it may take up to six months after my husband’s visa was approved for my own application to be processed, we had already stepped too far into the sticky threads to find an easy way out. My husband had made plans to leave his job, we were in the process of packing up our belongings and clearing out our Arizona home, and we had purchased plane tickets to Brussels, departing a month and a half apart.

More long distance. Fantastic!

It was challenge enough to envision spending time apart. The saddest part of this life change has been sending our husky baby to my parents in Massachusetts. Less than a year after we adopted our beloved Naih (pronounced Nigh-uh) from a rescue outside of Phoenix, we found ourselves driving to Los Angeles to put her on a plane bound for Boston. I wept for most of the drive back to Arizona and have continued to cry ever since.

I shared my ire with Rich.

If Naih was human, we wouldn’t be sending her away, I complained through tears.

My four-legged babies are as close to progeny as I am going to get, and bringing baby Naih home made me feel like we were a real family. Sending her off felt like we had broken our family, and I was heartbroken.

What could we do, though? We were headed to a foreign country with no idea of where we would live and no idea how we were going to survive financially. While I detest people who give up their animals when they move, it seemed reasonable to part with our husky until our circumstances were a bit less mysterious.

The second blow came when Rich found a place for us to live in Brussels. He had spent his first week traveling all over, looking at possible apartments for us to rent. It was only after signing a three-year lease that he remembered to ask about the possibility of having our dog at some point. When he told me the landlord said he would not be comfortable with this, I broke down weeping once more.

One silver lining in this messy transition was that I convinced my husband to let me bring my two cats to Belgium. They stayed with me during the two months I stayed with my mother-in-law in Washington state, and their proximity was a great comfort.

Four days after I arrived in Brussels, I received word that my long stay visa had been approved. The catch? I had to be in the United States to obtain it (insert expletives here).

I screamed and ranted for most of a day. Then, we discussed possibilities for obtaining my visa. I contacted the consulate in LA to see if they could send the visa to the consulate in Boston so I could stay with my parents and make an appointment to get my visa in Boston. No dice.

We finally decided that I would fly to my parents’ house in Massachusetts, mail my passport to LA, and hope that it was returned to me before my departure two weeks later.

At least you will get to spend time with my Naih, my husband said.

I will have to leave her all over again, I responded, bursting into tears.

Maybe you can just try to enjoy the time you have with her, my husband suggested. He is far more zen than I am. I was worried sick that she might remember me and I would spend two weeks with renewed heartbreak over having been forgotten.

When I opened the door to the back seat of my dad’s car, two ice blue eyes stared up at me. There was a moment’s hesitation, followed by recognition. Her entire body sprung into motion, and she was kissing my face while I wrapped my arms around her, burying my face in her thick fur.

She spent the first night snuggled at the foot of my bed, pretty good for a husky. She spent the second night pouting after I reprimanded her for snapping at my hand when I tried to get her up for a late night potty trip. By the next morning, she was lying at my feet once more.

My husband’s PhD program in Brussels will span four years. This means that when he finishes the program, she will already be five years old. While I keep trying to figure out a way that we can have our Naih with us in Brussels, I have not come up with a feasible plan.

The rental agreements in Belgium include pretty hefty fees for moving before the three years are up, and we currently live in an old house turned apartment-building with such thin floors and walls that you can hear every movement from above and below. Not to mention the absence of any kind of front or back yard, save a small patch of soil with some landscaping.

As we walked together toward the dog park this afternoon, I realized that I had unwittingly entered into yet another long distance relationship, only this time with a husky.

It’s kind of like we are in a long distance relationship, only she doesn’t know, I texted to my husband.

Hm. Interesting, he responded. Another 4 year long distance relationship.

Naih came to us a week after we put down our husky malamute Okami, and her joyful spirit helped me through a dark time. Without her, I feel the loss of Okami mixed with the pain of not having her nearby and feel such intense waves of grief that I hardly know what to do for my heart.

We will see, I wrote back. I felt a renewed sense of urgency to bring our family back together, anything to put an end to the pain in my heart.

I know the transition is much harder for me and that my baby is in grandpuppy heaven staying with my parents, not to mention that she is getting stellar healthcare and being ridiculously spoiled. She has baskets overflowing with toys, doggie neighbor friends, a little boy she meets at the bus stop every morning who was afraid of dogs until he met her, and a dog park less than a mile away.

While my own heart is broken, I don’t yet see a way to have her with us.


So, I write another long distance lament, this time for my fur baby.

Life is never simple, is it?

The land of damp

I have lived all over the world, in places on both ends of the fairly extreme temperature and weather spectrum. I have spent hours out walking and hiking in Southeast Alaska in winter and hours walking in the desert sun in Africa and Arizona.

Most recently, I spent nearly two years in central Arizona, and I have gone remarkably soft in such a short period of time. Since arriving in Brussels, I have pretty much been freezing for all but one day, when the sun shone and it was quite warm and pleasant.

Everything feels damp, all the time, and never seems to dry. The hand towels, the laundry, the air in our apartment, everything. Ironically, we have three fireplaces, but none of them are functioning. We have joked about getting some orange and red construction paper and crafting some faux flames.


I clearly did not think of Brussels as being quite so damp and subsequently chilly when I was packing. I was more concerned with bringing necessities that we knew we could find more cheaply in the states. My suitcases were stuffed to the brim with toiletries, vitamins, and a traveling pharmacy. Somehow, I wound up bringing a ridiculously large supply of underwear and socks and only a couple pairs of pants. While most establishments in the United States require only shirt and shoes, I imagine I will not test Brussels on this front. Plus, as per the subject of this post, I would clearly freeze.

We have radiators in each room of our apartment, but we are not sure as yet how expensive it is for heat in Belgium. Rich has been in miser mode, so we are only just beginning to try them out. I like standing near them, but is not without consequence. They got super hot; I will not go into detail with regard to how I discovered this.

My hair has become another phenomenon in this land of damp. It is an enormous, fluffy, frizzy beast that seems to expand with even the slightest increase in humidity. I am wondering if I might need to give it its own name because it clearly has an agenda entirely independent from my own. Oh for dry Arizona, the land where my curls are defined and my hair expands to a reasonable aura around my head.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Certainly my short absence from the dry desert, when combined with taking up residence in the a clammy clime, has lessened the immediacy of the hideous politics, conservatives, and religious nuts that drove me nuts in turn when I lived there.

I am hoping that making a small investment in more wool clothing will help ease my transition. Longterm, it is clear that I will need to find a fireplace or wood stove to sit by, if we are to continue living in Belgium or another EU country.

Is this a ridiculous non-problem that I have? Most definitely. Is it a nice distraction from anxiety over politics and the continuing divide in my home country? Also, yes.

Yours from under the covers.


The land of second hand


In deciding to work toward his doctorate in Belgium, my husband subsequently placed me in the position of breadwinner for our family, a scary prospect since I had left my permanent position with the National Park Service not two years earlier in order to move to Arizona to be with him. Note the hint of irritation here. It seems to have become my modus operandi for all things pertaining to Belgium, though I generally share it fairly openly so there is little room for interpretation.

I remember well the days of working as a volunteer environmental educator and then as seasonal park ranger, never knowing if there would be funding to hire me back for another season or if I might start work in March or as late as June. There was much proverbial tightening of the belt, and after a while I just wanted to be able to afford health insurance and to not be worried about every single dollar I spent. It was a mixed blessing getting a permanent job with the NPS, to be sure. Careful what you wish for, a supervisor had warned me when I agonized over the woes of being a seasonal. She was definitely on to something. After five years in a permanent position, I was ready for a life where I might try a hand at being my own boss for a while. While I periodically miss having a regular paycheck every two weeks, I definitely do not miss having a chain of command of bosses at every turn.

It felt scary and invigorating to leave my job and move into the unknown in Arizona. I had begun working on building skill sets that may allow me to be an independent entrepreneurial renaissance woman of sorts. Of course, part of the problem was that all of the skills I had been honing were ones that people either didn’t realize they needed (editing, for example) and/or didn’t want to pay top dollar for (editing, yoga teacher, songwriting).

I offer what some might think of as luxury items. I very briefly attempted going into business for songwriting, but my music partner and I had very different ideas of what success looked like. I was heartbroken but also in a place where success could not be dictated by a boss. I needed to define it for myself.

Success in songwriting in Prescott, Arizona proved to be quite limited, even my new definition that involved far less financial gain. I found that most venues were interested in hiring bands to play country and pop tunes. Prescott College, a mecca for the creative, was a financial and confidence-boosting oasis for me several times a year for both songwriting and editing, but I came nowhere near the kind of income I had made in my previous 9 to 5 gig. However modest it had been, it seemed like a tidy sum in comparison to the kind of money I was bringing in. I was nowhere near bringing home any kind of bacon (my husband is a vegetarian, so I referred to it as veggie bacon).

So, when my husband came home from his last day of work for four years, my stress levels were already shooting through the roof. My editing jobs had been coming in waves, which were more like ripples during the summer when students were not in school. I had finally started to get a few gigs here and there, but I was not hired nearly as often as I had been in my previous community of Lowell, Massachusetts, where people seemed far more open to the entrepreneurial spirit and pushing the boundaries of creativity in the arts.

The visa process alone for Belgium cost nearly $2k, and this did not include the psychological toll of stressing over every single step, particularly the question of whether my husband’s visa would even arrive in time for his September flight the Brussels (we literally did a fly by the post office on the day of his flight while we were en route to the airport).

When he arrived in Belgium, my husband entered a kind of monastic state. He has been living quite simply and spending as little as possible. The first month and half that he was in Brussels, I was staying with my mother-in-law in Seattle in a similar state. I have to admit that I am impressed with his resourcefulness. He found a lovely apartment in a quiet corner outside of Brussels proper. The community is called Watermael-Boitsfort, and we seem to be in the Boitsfort side. Our apartment is quite spacious, though this may be due in part to a lack of furniture beyond a bed, futon-couch, and a large wooden boudoir. He has found clever ways to double his returns on items he purchases.

Wine boxes become little trash cans. Jam jars become glasses, and mustard jars are for whiskey glasses. You know, the bare necessities.

He also learned of a second hand shop that spans several floors of a building closer to downtown. This afternoon, we made a trip there and purchased a small set of dishes and utensils for under 10 euros! They may not be the beautiful individual pieces by my favorite potter from Washington state, but at least I won’t feel too terrible if they break.

Finally, there is the website that seems to be a strange European counterpart to craigslist,, which literally translates from the French deuxième main (pronounced dooze-y-em man) to the English second hand. From this site, he has found a Francis Francis espresso machine (also clearly a necessity), a rug that does not quite fit any of our rooms (still adjusting to the metric system), and a hot water kettle. Not too shabby!

So yes, apart from my melodramatic opening paragraphs, I really have much to be thankful for. Most of my perceived problems are that of the first world. I am loved and well fed. I may be tired and cranky from spending most of 2016 in limbo, and I will likely continue to worry about financial stability, but I am also quite lucky.


Jet lag is a bitch. And impressions of Watermael-Boitsfort

14502856_531430932699_4866376064942259162_nMerriam Webster defines jet lag as, a tired and unpleasant feeling that you sometimes get when you travel by airplane to a place that is far away. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Just a wee bit of un pleasantness that can be cured with a nice cup of tea. I am thinking whiskey may be required for the bout of particularly unpleasant jet lag I have been experiencing since arriving in Belgium.

I am not one to romanticize my earlier days of life, but I definitely do not recall having so much trouble adjusting to time differences in my earlier days of travel. They say (whoever they may be) that all you need to do once you arrive at your destination is to stay up until the local time for bed. Then, you sleep through the night and wake up the next day ready to go.

To the proverbial them, I say, Shove it! Jet lag is a bitch, and my body is not having it on this go around. For most of my waking hours (and I say waking with some facetiousness), I am exhausted to the point where I cannot even envision standing up. I think about going for a walk, doing yoga or Tai Chi, cleaning, unpacking, and organizing, but the thought of actually engaging in any of these activities feels so very enervating. My deepest desire is for the night to arrive so I can crawl under the covers, close my eyes, and bid adieu to my conscious thoughts. However, when the night rolls around, I lie in bed wide awake with the song Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps running through my head, a gift from my husband’s recent choice in songs to sing. It’s the strangest sensation.

Speaking of sensations, my insides are definitely rebelling as well. I remember when I was living in Africa. Together with the other students in my cohort, there was much discussion of bacteria, digestion, and the like. At one point in my time in Mali, nine days passed with nary a bowel movement. My experience in Belgium thus far has been nowhere near as uncomfortable, but I seem to be no less cranky for it.

My two cats seem to be adjusting just fine, save for a wee spot of vomit that my husband found and photographed prior to cleaning because it had been in the shape of a heart. What furry little dears they are, non?


So far in Belgium, I have spent a lot of time sitting on our futon and a little time walking around the area where my husband and I will be living for the next three years. It is quite quaint and lovely, particularly with the leaves changing color and gathering in piles along the edges of sidewalks and street corners.

Our apartment is sweet and has windows that let in warm threads of light. We have little furniture and a rug that is far too big for our living room (my husband bought it while still getting adjusted to measuring in metric).

My architectural surroundings are really interesting. Many narrow apartment buildings and houses lined up side by side as one long row house but with individual homes. Red roofs and brick walls. Crawling ivy and scruffy dogs. Old trees with protective circles of tiny wooden fence posts. I want to walk up and my place my palm on their ancient trunks, but I don’t know what will happen if I cross the fence threshold. Perhaps, I will be whisked away to fairy land? There is a feeling of the fay here. It is at once foreign and familiar. It is not quite like areas where I have traveled in France but perhaps more akin to London or parts of Germany. Maybe, it is unlike anywhere but here. I suppose I will find out soon enough.

For now, I will only imagine all that I will see and do during my time in Belgium, all whilst I sit in comfort on my Ikea futon, and I will dream of falling fast asleep with the setting of the sun.


Do cats experience jet lag? And other musings on international travel


This will be my two cats’ second dissertation. At least, they will be in their furry friend support mode for another doctoral go around these next four years. When my husband informed me that he wanted to pursue his doctorate, I thought about the four years I spent working on my own. Inwardly, I groaned and thought, Are you insane? Why would anyone do that to themselves? Of course, having been through it, I knew firsthand how intense and all-encompassing the experience could be.

Ok, I responded.

We went through a process of many months, where my husband researched possible places to pursue a doctorate in an emerging field called Media Ecology. This was all happening during an American election year, and the more popularity that Trump seemed to gain, the more appealing the idea of moving out of country.

My husband eventually settled on Belgium, and then began the process of applying for a visa, packing and cleaning our house, and the question of what to do with our furry companions, of which we had many.

My husband tried to convince me to take the rational (and much less expensive) route of finding new homes for our three cats and one husky, but this was clearly not going to work for me. This was a long and arduous process. My husband would make jokes. I would cry. It went on for several months. Even up to the last minute before my husband was slated to fly to Belgium, we were still trying to figure out the kitty arrangements.

Through screaming, expletives, and tears, we eventually decided upon sending our beloved husky to my parents’, whose elderly dog had been suffering from a tumor in his heart. We spent a weekend driving to and from Los Angeles because even the overnight temperatures in Phoenix were still too hot to send her by plane. I wept for most of the drive back to Arizona, and then recommenced with packing and cleaning.

Every time I move, I am able to practice non-attachment to a certain point, and then I just can’t let go of anything else. After parting with my beloved husky, I made the decision that I was not going to part with my two remaining cats. It was like a threshold for separation had been reached.

Ok, my husband told me. If you can figure out how to bring them, then you can bring them.

Thus began the ridiculously labyrinthine process of learning how to travel internationally with two felines. I had thought the human visa process was involved. What I have come to call the kitty visa process is equally ridiculous. To enter an EU country, my cats needed to have 15-digit microchips. Apparently, their old school 10 digits were not sufficient. I could either get them double chipped or bring a scanner to read their 10 digits. The scanner cost nearly $300, so I went for the double chip. Then, I had to get them vaccinated for rabies, but this had to happen after and not before the microchipping. The day I went to the humane society clinic to get them their rabies vaccines, the clinic was not offering microchip services because they were in between vendors. I looked up the regulations for bringing cats to the EU for what seemed to the 100th time and learned that the rabies vaccine would be legitimate if the microchipping happened on the same day. If I waited another week for the humane society to offer microchips at their Friday clinic, I would have to get them microchipped and vaccinated all over again. Instead of paying $10-15 for microchipping, I was obliged to make a mad dash to the vet and paid $47 each for 15-digit microchips.

I had finally gotten my cats super chipped and vaccinated when my husband decided that he did not wish to part with his own cat. It felt wrong for me to be bringing my two cats and for his to be left behind.

This led to more tears on my part and several yelling matches. It was decided that one of my cats would go to college with my husband’s daughter and then we would each be able to bring one that belonged to us (as much as a cat belongs to anyone, that is).

At the end of August, we finished packing and cleaning, stuffed three cats, a large litter box, and as much of the stuff we wanted to bring to Belgium as possible into our Toyota Prius, and headed north to Edmonds, Washington, where we would be staying with my husband’s mother until the next stage of our overseas doctoral journey.

Just before my husband was slated to fly to Brussels, the cat logistics changed once more. I was experiencing extreme emotional duress at the prospect of parting with both my husband and one of my cats, and it was decided that my husband’s cat would go to college instead.

On September 10, we made a mad dash to the post office to grab my husband’s wayward visa while en route to the airport. Thus began my two months of limbo in Edmonds, while I waited to fly to Belgium with the two remaining cats.

While my husband navigated bureaucracy in Belgium, I worked on remaining moving logistics like selling our car, figuring out how to pack as much as possible into the two small rolling suitcases at my disposal, and procuring the final paperwork required for traveling with cats to Belgium. Each day, I went for a long walk while listening to books narrated by individuals with delightful British accents. I tried several different routes and eventually found a rhythm walking up a long hilly portion of Walnut Street, through a small section of old-growth forest in Yost Park, and back down an adjacent street on the other side of the park. I took photos of small details that I imagine most people would walk by. I often stopped every few feet to take a photo of a leaf on the asphalt or a heart-shaped rock embedded in the sidewalk, elements that seemed to call out to me to capture them on film, lest they be forgotten. I am sure that people who saw me crouching down and holding my iPhone camera just above the surface of the sidewalk or street likely thought I was nuts. They may not have been wrong.

Days turned into weeks, and a month and a half passed, slowly but surely. I spent a lot of time in my mother-in-law’s basement, what we came to refer to as the catacombs. We shared meals and laughter and sometimes spoke for hours about family stories. Finally, the day came to fly to Brussels.

I loaded the cats into their single large carrier (I found out that the Icelandair charges by carrier and that two animals of the same species could travel together). I brought the carrier to the Icelandair desk at SeaTac International Airport, gave the representative my credit card, sent a hope out to the universe that they would not destroy each other, and waved goodbye to the carrier.

After the mad process of procuring the correct documentation for the cats to travel (I had done extensive research, called a vet near my mother-in-law’s home well in advance to ensure they could handle the necessary paperwork, gone through the hell when I got to the USDA-APHIS office in Tumwater and was told the vet had incorrectly filled out the paperwork forgotten to include dates on certificates, and not even filled out the current version of the health certificate for EU countries), I was shocked by how simple it had been to actually send them on their way.

It was not all smooth sailing. My mother-in-law’s stepson had driven us to the airport. As we were unloading my bags, I inquired into the whereabouts of my ukulele, which he had left sitting in the garage when we he was loading my bags into the trunk of his car. Two hours passed while they drove back, picked up the ukulele and my bag of snacks for the plane, and returned to door 17 at Departures, where I had been patiently sitting waiting.

Several hours later, I found my way to baggage claim at the Brussels Airport. I looked around for the odd size baggage area and finally asked a staff person at Lost and Found where I could find my cats. She said someone from Icelandair would find me at the baggage carousel. I was doubtful, but I went back to went. Sure enough, a man walked out of a door with a rolling cart with a familiar cat carrier sitting on it.

After an elevator ride, train ride, and up and down several steps of stairs, I followed my husband up three sets of stairs to the apartment he had found for us. I was so exhausted that my face and even my lips felt tingly and numb.

I have been so exhausted that I am not sure it has remotely hit me that I am in Belgium. It has been a long couple of months, and I imagine it will take a while to settle in. My body can feel the stress and fatigue, so I am taking it one hour at a time.

My cats seem relatively subdued.

Do cats experience jet lag, I texted my dad?

Perhaps they are always kind of jet lagged, he wrote back. Perhaps they do time travel, back and forth in time.

That is a great premise for a story, I wrote.

Pas pour moi, he said. Peut-être pour toi!

Until this morning, I have been too exhausted to even sit down to recount the many stories of these past couple of months. This is but the beginning of a new chapter in a foreign land. I invite you to read along and join in the journey.