Beginnings and Endings
Little reflections on the past 3 years
Whenever I sit down to write a post, I think about its beginning – how I’m going to set the scene for the content, and about its ending – how I’m going to tie it all in so that the post makes sense to the reader. Probably because this past week’s July 4th Independence Day holiday was the first one that I have not spent in the United States, I started to think more about beginnings and endings and began to reflect on how much my life has changed in just the past 3 years alone. It brought me back to 2019, the last time (an ending) that Paul and I hosted a Driveway Fireworks Party.
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What is a Driveway Fireworks Party, you may ask?
It’s a made-up name I gave to a small gathering of friends and neighbors to watch the fireworks display that our Arizona community put on in the community park every July 3rd (with the exception of during Covid or if there was bad weather). From the bottom of our driveway, we had a perfect birds-eye view of the fireworks. That meant we didn’t have to walk to the park hauling our lawn chairs, try to find a place to sit (this event attracts thousands of people), and it also meant that we could set up an adult drinks and snacks table – plus the added benefit of having a bathroom handy.
We invited only a few people to the party – we didn’t want a crowd – so there were just six of us. We’ve had bigger Driveway Fireworks parties in the past, but for some reason, this year we wanted to keep it small. I sometimes get this sixth-sense thing where I feel funny inside but can’t pinpoint why. But somehow, I thought that this party needed to be low-key. I felt happy, sad, and bittersweet all at the same time and for no apparent reason.
Our guests arrived around 8:00 pm and we assembled at the bottom of our driveway to chat and enjoy some wine, beer, and popcorn. At 9:00 pm the fireworks began. One of our friends had brought a little music player with patriotic songs as a backdrop.
Our community did fireworks in style! There was nothing amateurish about this production or any number of events put on throughout the year (as evidenced by the hefty HOA fees everyone pays). Professional pyrotechnicians put on the display, and there is supervision by the local fire department. There’s also music, dancing, a beer garden, food trucks, roving performers, and activities for kids.
The fireworks were nothing short of spectacular! The beginning started off with a few smaller fireworks and then ended in an explosive burst of light, shapes, and colors.
Even though Paul and I had not yet started the D7 process for residency in Portugal and we were still in the throes of ‘should we leave, or should we stay’, we suspected that this might be the last fireworks party we would host in Arizona. But little did we know how many little (and big) beginnings and endings there would be in our lives from that moment forward.
Ending – selling our house.
Change is hard. But in the fall of 2019, we decided to put our Arizona home on the market. We had a loose plan – not sure if we would actually move out of the country really – maybe we’d eventually buy a condo somewhere in the States - but we wanted to downsize, get rid of stuff, and have the stress of selling a house done with as the first step towards a new beginning – whatever that ended up becoming. Within a couple of weeks, the house sold. Now we had to scramble for a rental until we were ready to make a move to parts still yet unknown.
Beginning – finding a decent rental.
Even in 2019, finding a decent rental home or condo in Arizona was difficult. It had been an exceptionally long time since Paul and I had rented something, so we were essentially rookies in this process. By chance, we found this much (much!) smaller home in our community that had just become available to lease. We grabbed it. Staying in the same community gave us a (false?) sense of security just in case we didn’t want to make a complete change in our lives. Something to fall back on (I guess).
Ending – losing a brother.
On December 20, 2019, Paul lost his older brother. While skiing down a slope in New Hampshire (a favorite pastime), Paul’s brother had a massive heart attack and died instantly, leaving a wife, two daughters and three grandsons. He was seventy-one. That was a sad ending to 2019 but the beginning in the way of how Paul and I started to view life.
Beginning – a broken bone – a first for me.
In the process of moving, I fell in a funny sort of way, twisted my foot, and promptly fell onto it with all my body weight. I’d never broken a bone in my life, so this was a new beginning for me and one I didn’t particularly enjoy. Once you break a foot, it’s never really the same and can cause issues with walking – something I’ve had to adjust to.
Beginning – learning to live with a Pandemic.
A beginning for a lot of people, we, too learned to cope with a Pandemic and wondered if we’d ever see the end of it (we still wonder). We stayed indoors. We quickly set up a home office for me, and I became a remote worker. We didn’t see anyone. We watched a lot of Netflix. We wiped down every box, bag, and grocery item with disinfectant. We hoarded masks. We paid big bucks for a can of Lysol. We searched for toilet paper. I’ve known some shortages in my lifetime, but never would I have thought that toilet paper would be one! When Covid hit the U.S. there was no T.P. anywhere and we were down to our last couple of rolls. We resorted to buying a case of commercial, industrial-sized toilet paper from Staples, which pretty much took care of things for almost a year.
Ending – a friend is terminal.
One of our dearest friends (and someone who attended our 2019 Driveway Fireworks Party) was diagnosed with a terminal illness and eventually succumbed to it. With Covid ravaging the country, all we could do was support our friend and his wife from a distance.
Beginning – finally making the decision to pursue a D7 visa for Portugal.
This was a big decision. Should we stay? Should we go? Should we tell anyone? What would people think if we did tell them? (Secretly, I think people we did share our thoughts with believed it was a long, long way off or maybe we weren’t really all that serious). Should we wait until each of our elderly (in their mid-90’s) parents passed? We felt guilty. We felt like young kids just starting out. We felt secretive. We felt exhilarated. We felt panicky. We worried the Pandemic would kill us. We felt time was running away from us. We worried that we would make a big (and expensive) mistake moving to another country. We considered other parts of the U.S. to live in, but nothing felt ‘right.’ Life was starting to get too comfortable in our little rental home, but it wasn’t enough. We were restless and not just because of Covid. We revisited time and again the pros and cons of living in other countries. Portugal kept coming up in nearly every conversation Paul and I had together (and in Pandemic-mode, we were spending a LOT of time together).
I think our decision was accelerated by all the beginnings and endings we had gone through over those months and years. In retrospect, those beginnings and endings were the push we needed to get off our butts and make something happen.
It’s easy to get too comfortable. Why make a change when you really don’t have to? I had a job I could work at for as long as I wanted. We had a comfortable little rental home. Paul could continue to sell guitars online and work on his new photoart business. But something kept nagging at us. Ultimately, we kept circling back to the concern that if we didn’t make a move now – while we were still in rather decent shape – that we would regret it. So, in early 2021, we began the arduous process of compiling the documents needed to get our visas. We were rewarded with those precious visas in July 2021. Now it was real.
Ending – leaving my job and retiring.
Since the age of sixteen, I’ve worked. Some jobs were good, some not so much. I’ve worked for other people, and I’ve worked for myself. From orthodontic assistant in high school, to law librarian for a large Providence law firm, to the co-owner of one of America’s oldest country stores, a sales assistant in a fine antiques store, a marketing director for a dairy products manufacturing company, an executive director for a chamber of commerce, a director of communications for a hospitality and tourism association, an EVP of business development and marketing for a real estate investment company, to the owner of a promotional products business, a freelance writer and marketer, to managing marketing and communications for a national physical therapy network - if you wanted a career in variety, I fit the bill. But retire? Really? Yes!! After an interesting career primarily in marketing, writing and business development, I announced my retirement (even though I still do occasional freelancing and write my blog). So, it was both an ending…and a beginning.
Ending – no July 4th fireworks in Portugal.
Obviously, there are no July 4th fireworks in Portugal. But there are Portugal independence celebrations and plenty of fireworks, especially on New Years Eve. I think that’s appropriate as the fireworks symbolize and celebrate the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one. Appreciation for the past, hope for the future.
Beginning – Me (and Paul) heading to Portugal.
Decades ago, in the 1970’s, my late mother told me that I would always somehow land on my feet. I asked her how she knew that, and she said she didn’t know how, but she knew it would be true. Throughout the years, sometimes I’ve agreed with her prediction. Other times I’ve wondered if I have any feet to land on at all (after all I did break one)…
The farthest thing from my mind growing up was where I would ultimately end up (endings) and whether it would be a hard landing or a soft one. Where I would end up was in the very distant future, and I thought I had eons of time.
There are beginnings and endings every moment of every day. Some I see, some I feel, some I don’t notice at all.
Although I may never host another Driveway Fireworks Party again (I have no driveway anyway right now), I will create new beginnings here with Paul in Portugal. Some we’ll share with new expat friends like our new Cocktails & Conversations parties, some with family and friends back in the States, and some we’ll share only with each other.
If nothing else, this experience, and all the beginnings and endings life has presented to me are part of the fabric of who I’ve become. Whether I’ve landed on my feet this time is yet to be determined. The story continues - there will be many new beginnings and endings - and I’m ready.
PS…This post was written before the atrocities of yet more gun violence over July 4th in the United States. If you are in the U.S. and reading this, I sincerely hope you had a safe, peaceful and reflective Independence Day.
Until next time…