A Different Kind of Celebration

When we moved to Geneva, I kept January 2016 in the front of my mind. Three years, I thought. I can do this. I’ll move back with a four year old and maybe another child. I can live anywhere for three years. Three Christmases. Three Easters. Only three ski seasons so make it worth it.

Well, now we have arrived at January 2016. My deadline has arrived and it is just be another January. See, something happened between the first gray January week we arrived and now. We have really come to like Geneva. If you had asked me two years ago, or maybe even one year ago, I would have said I tolerated Geneva but would never love it. I would have been wrong. It’s a great city. My son and daughter are learning French. We can see the Alps every day (barring the fog which is bad November through January) and it’s the perfect mix of big city assets (great public transportation, museums and cultural activities) without the traffic and sprawl of Houston or London or New York. The Swiss are polite and reserved and I like that. They have good cheese, incredible chocolate and it’s safe. Our church is unbelievably diverse and we have made really good friends through a small group and through Forest’s school and Josh’s work.

In the past year, we have bought a house and a car. I was able to do some of those things in French. I got my hair cut- including bangs (or fringe)!- all in French. I can make reservations and chat with dog groomers and doctor’s assistants in French. Learning the language has been tough. I studied Spanish in high school and college and while the vocabulary is similar (thanks Latin), the accent could not be more different. But perhaps the most “a-ha” moment for me was selling our old car.  We had an old SUV and sold it to a friend of ours. Since we had purchased it three years earlier from another friend, I knew the process. We had to go to the DMV and switch the title to his name, prove he had insurance, change our address and register new plates. What a difference three years made. This time I was the one who was speaking and explaining the insurance complications. It wasn’t pretty but it got done. Making an effort to understand the language and culture of the place we live has proven invaluable. I’m sure that’s obvious to you but I wonder about places I have lived before this. What if I had taken more time to understand the culture of my neighborhood in New York or Houston? I assumed that America is America but maybe I could have enjoyed it more.

But I’ve been thinking about something bigger than that. What do you do when you reach your goal? When you set a date or some other goal ahead of you and you get there. It feels anticlimactic in a way. I did it. I lived in Geneva for three years and am on track to live here for a few more. Only one more and I will have lived here longer than anywhere else since I was in college. The very thought of January 2016 seemed so far away when we first moved and I anticipated the extreme relief I would feel when we reached our goal and then moved back. But instead of enduring it, I like it so much I want to keep going. It’s a strange when you don’t feel what you expected to feel. I’m almost disappointed- not that we are staying and enjoying it but January 2016 was held out as my great hope, my month of celebration and now… I don’t know. I don’t really have much of a point here but am processing as I write. That’s probably not a great writing method. I know there are trite answers like “Live in the moment and you won’t have this problem” or “Enjoy every day because if you’re waiting for tomorrow, you’ll miss what’s in front of you.” I understand those and don’t think I’ve been missing out on our life here because I had January 2016 as my goal. But as someone who loves lists and plans and the security they seem to bring (though I know they don’t actually bring any sort of safety), I think I struggle to not have an end goal or an end date.

At the same time, I do find a lot of comfort in the fact that we have made it longer than we thought we would. We’ve made a home here and I’m able to communicate. I’m proud of that. Maybe January 2016 will be a month of celebration- just of something different- of our desire to stay, our victories no matter how small and of our great friends who have made this place our home.

Depression and Me

This month is Suicide Prevention Month. I wrote this for a friend but realized that I had a slightly larger platform to share it on. I hope you don’t mind.

Just some background- when I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had suicidal thoughts and felt like I was going crazy. I left school for six weeks and sat at home on the sofa watching Law and Order and eating turkey sandwiches. I was later also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have found counseling and medication to help a lot. I am passionate about mental health and believe that sharing our stories can help one another. I am open about my own struggles for that reason. I’m also happy to hear from you and answer questions at any time.

Dear friend,

When I heard you were struggling with depression, I wanted to write you a letter. Then I realized other people might benefit from reading this so I wrote it as a blog post. I hope that is ok. I wish  depression was something only you and I had experience with. Or maybe I don’t wish that because part of what helped me a lot was realizing how many people struggle with mental illness of all kinds, not just depression. Did you know Mother Teresa was depressed at many points in her life? Martin Luther had some serious mental health issues. So did many US presidents, famous musicians and artists. A lot of us have this illness. My first point is you are not alone.

But that might not change how you feel. If you’re anything like me, you feel like you have an emotional tapeworm, something that is just sucking the life out of you. Things that used to make you happy and whole don’t bring those same feelings about. You feel empty. I know that feeling well. I know it so well that I pray regularly that my own daughter would be so very full of life. Which brings me to my second point: You are not your feelings. You are so much more than how you feel. You are bright and kind and valued and you are not the sum of your emotions. It feels like you cannot trust your own emotions right now. It feels like they are letting you down just by being there. You are more than that and at your center, you are a worthy human being who is very, very loved. You might not feel it now but be patient. As one of my very favorite lines from the Narnia series says, “Take courage Dear Heart.” It takes courage to hold on and believe in something that you cannot see or feel. Be brave.

I used to say I would not wish depression on my worst enemy. I probably still wouldn’t but I also wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. It may sound crazy but depression saved my life. How to explain this… I recently read the story of Jonah to my son. As I was reading it, a sentence jumped out at me from his little children’s Bible, “God sent the whale to rescue Jonah.” I had always seen the whale as the punishment. If only Jonah had obeyed, he would not have had to endure the whale. I hadn’t realized something worse than the whale was looming over Jonah- death. He was about to die and God sent a whale to rescue him. The whale was the rescuer. It’s the best analogy I’ve found for my depression. My depression saved me. Because of my depression, I made friends out of people I would have ignored. I discovered that I actually don’t want to be perfect and it’s exhausting to try. I want to be whole and happy and part of that is being creative. I learned how to take care of myself and know myself and not be swept away by the current mood or trends or events. Depression saved me from being not myself. Said another way, depression is one of the key things that made me who I am and showed me deep parts of my heart that I would have missed otherwise.

That’s not to say it’s fun. It’s terrible. It’s dark and you feel like no one notices you or hears you. You wonder who would show up to your funeral. You wonder if anyone would miss you. I know you think these things because I did. I sat in my room and wondered if life was worth living. When I heard you were sick, I was on a walk with my kids. My life is not perfect. I still struggle with my OCD and depression on a regular basis. But I looked at these two precious little lives and was overwhelmed with gratitude- for my children who would not exist if I had believed my own thoughts, for my family and counselors who did not believe the darkness that I was convinced was taking over my life, for my husband who was willing to love me and enter into a mess of emotions and ups and downs with me and for myself, for being brave and strong. You will find your people. And I am choosing to believe for you, since you cannot believe it for yourself right now, that you will look back in gratitude for those who helped you and for yourself, for your strength, your self-awareness and your faith.

I love you and am for you, so for you. Hang in there. You are a treasure, a unique, interesting person and this life would absolutely not be the same without you.


Kiss. Kiss. Headbutt.

Greeting someone from our own country is hard enough for Americans. Do you shake hands? Kiss on the cheek? Hug? Awkwardly side hug so you make zero contact with the other person’s chest? But when you add in other cultures there is just no chance at getting it right. People from France kiss on each cheek when they greet each other. People from the UK tend to kiss on just one cheek. The Swiss? Three times. And when you live in Geneva, a part of Switzerland surrounded by the French, greetings are fraught with danger.

Nowhere is this more evident than at a party. We recently went to a party with people from France, Switzerland, Ohio, Argentina and Australia to name a few (only in Geneva). I spent much of the party kissing cheeks and shaking hands and hoping to not actually kiss anyone’s mouth. Some people are able to carry off these greetings without even acknowledging the awkwardness. Others just own up to it. “I’m going for two kisses,” one guy announced as he greeted me. I was so relieved to find some Americans who were eager to just shake hands that we ended up talking for five minutes about how relieved we were to just shake hands.

Once at a grocery store I ran into an American woman I know. Since we are in Switzerland, we greeted each other with kisses on the cheek but since she’s an American, three felt excessive so I stopped at two.The other woman went for a third kiss. At that exact moment, Annie made a screeching noise so I looked down and to my right.  The result? I head butted the other woman. At the nice grocery store. I often assume two kisses is plenty and as a result have actually ended up kissing people on the mouth when they went for three kisses. It’s important to work on speed in ending the greetings: kiss, kiss and quickly pull your head back so they cannot make contact with lips.

Even the kids recognize there is something about greetings that is important. Forest has a friend named Max, the grandson of our former landlady. When Max would visit his grandmother, he and Forest would play in the garden. Once when Max came over, he and Forest ran to each other, arms wide open, shouting one another’s names. “Forest!” “Max!” But when they reached each other, they did not know what to do. Max went to greet Forest with two kisses and Forest just wanted a hug. I believe they ended up in a pile on the grass.

I appreciate the warmth of greeting here. It can make me feel very sophisticated when I greet someone with such a complicated gesture as three kisses. But at the same time, there is nothing more anxiety-producing than trying to read the situation before greeting. “Is this person Swiss? French? Just a Brit speaking French?” Perhaps we should all wear our preferences on nametags at parties. “Hello. My name is Jane and I like handshakes. Thanks.”

Recent Reading

Maybe I just write these because I like to keep track of what I’ve read. Maybe it’s to show off. But I think the real reason is that I wish more people wrote lists of what they’ve been reading. I am regularly finishing books only to go to WhatShouldIReadNext.com to find a suggestion. I click on any reading lists links I can find. So I’m trying to pay it forward I guess.

British Murder Mystery Series:

I have loved this genre since just after Annie is born. I tried to read classics and got utterly stuck. Bleak House is exactly as described- bleak. So I started reading a British murder mystery called A Test of Wills, the first in the Ian Rutledge series. Then after reading that series, I read the Bess Crawford series also by Charles Todd. Both are set in England in the years surrounding World War I. After those, I read the Maisie Dobbs series, set in the years after World War I. And then the Maggie Hope series, set during World War II. All that to say, I think I have exhausted my options in this genre but I really enjoyed them. If you’re a mystery fan, you should try one of these series.


I also got into non-fiction books recently. And not just history. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and promptly followed at least the first step of Marie Kondo’s organization program. She is a little obsessive about tidying- she described a few incidents of angering her siblings by tidying their rooms and throwing their stuff away. But, I practiced holding each item of clothing and asking, “Does this bring me joy?” and I ended up giving away several large bags of clothes.

I also read The Road to Character by David Brooks. I really enjoy Brooks’ column in the New York Times and was intrigued by a review I read of this book. Brooks investigated historical figures and looked at the character traits that set each apart. He said that people with character have practiced a “long obedience in the same direction,” something that stands out from our rapidly changing culture. I really enjoyed the book though it did get a little long.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is not exactly non-fiction, but it is based on Boo’s visits to Mumbai slums and is more non-fiction than not. The book was a very detailed picture of the slums of Mumbai and the issues of poverty on both local and global levels.

And I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Words cannot begin to describe this book. The language is beautiful and moving and the book itself is just devastating. Written as a long letter to his son, Between the World and Me is Coates’ reflection on being black in America. I’d strongly encourage everyone to read it. I have never looked at race and differences as deeply as he does in this book.


I read three books that I somehow missed reading in school. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving was fantastic. Owen Meany is an unforgettable character and this book made me cry, laugh, swear and think. I was truly sad when I finished it as I had to leave behind an incredible cast of characters. That being sad, the book was one of the most complete I’ve ever read, if that makes sense.

At the beach this year, we shared our favorite books. All three of my brothers said East of Eden by John Steinbeck. So I read it. It is really good. You should read it too- family, humanity, fall, redemption, it’s all in there. I would put it in a list of my favorites- which I am compiling and will post here sometime soon.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was always on my parents shelf and I think at least two of my brothers had to read it for tenth grade English. A magical story of a boy and his dad and sister who travel through the US looking for his older brother who is on the run from the law. One part family drama, one part coming of age and one part beautiful poetic descriptions of America.

Miracle Food

I recently went out to dinner with a number of other American and British women. We are all moms who stay home full time so a night out was fun albeit full of talking about our children. But it was warm and we ate outside in a trendier part of Geneva- a nice break from hot dogs and chicken nuggets in my kitchen.

The food itself was great and fresh but it was not what stuck out to me at this dinner. I was surprised by the conversation. Not the main topics- of course we covered parenting issues, our upcoming summer trips, current events but the entire evening was laced with this narrative about food that seems to be specific to women. I rarely (if ever) hear this dialogue from men but cannot go out with women and not hear it.

“Someone take this bread basket away! I can’t stop myself.”

“I would love to get the caprese salad but I shouldn’t. I didn’t go to spin class today.”

“I guess I can let myself cheat just this once.”

One American woman told me that she has gained so much more weight in Switzerland because of all the fresh bread. I asked about her time in the States since Americans tend to be much heavier than Europeans. She said that the amount of carbs available here meant she ate way too much. So I explained that the French approach to this is much more measured. In the book French Women Don’t Get Fat (which is not an entirely true assertion but fairly accurate) the author, Mireille Guiliano, explains that women in France approach food as something to be enjoyed and savored. They eat smaller portions. They eat all kinds of food, mostly fresh. They would never cut out an entire food group or overdo it on any one. That chapter was my favorite section- the one where she addressed protein overloading: “Half a pound of anything in one sitting is probably not good for you.” When I explained this to my friend she whined, “Yes, but Swiss women walk everywhere and are always moving!” Only in America would we rather cut out an entire (miraculous*) food group than walk to the grocery store. My favorite suggestion from the book was the “pick two” idea. Instead of eating bread, drinking wine and ordering dessert, maybe just pick two. That is a healthier approach to life- maybe don’t overdo it in all areas. Don’t eat all the things, all the time. Wise woman.

Now, there is a deeper issue of course. Society has ridiculous standards for women that it does not have for men. Women talk about diet and appearance because we are told we are valued for that. I understand that. By no means am I trying to gloss over major issues with food. I have several friends who have had serious struggles with anorexia and bulimia. This is not meant to diminish those experiences. But my point is this- in general, we waste so much time talking about food and our relationship to it. We could accomplish, share, create so much more if we just gave up the script about food.

French and Swiss women don’t discuss food while they are eating except to say something is “Cela a un meilleur goût” (This tastes good). They don’t have this need to share their diet with one another. There is so much shame hovering around a table of American women eating. And we do not help each other out. If you don’t want to eat the bread, fine. But try to help your friends out by not disparaging them for eating bread. American women (maybe all Western women) see being anything less than skinny as a moral failure. Another woman here told me about her friend who adopted several children. “She’s a saint. I mean, she’s overweight but she’s a saint.” I almost spit out my food. Which would have been a tragedy because it was delicious.

I don’t know what the answer is. I am not a model of this. In fact, while I am writing this blog post, I am simultaneously ordering a lot of Indian food. But I hope we can figure it out. Ask more questions, worry less about people judging you for eating bread. Please see my note below. Help your fellow American women out and don’t mention carbs or protein. And quit talking about your diet. It’s the kind (and European) thing to do.

* On a side note, I think bread has gotten a really bum rap. I am currently reading At Home by Bill Bryson and one chapter is devoted to the development of city and community living. He wisely points out just how miraculous it is that we discovered that not only could we eat grain but at some point, we had to thresh it, grind it into flour, combine it with other ingredients, put it in a oven and hope it all worked out. Bread is an incredible feat of human persistence. I think it should be celebrated. We should all be dancing when the bread basket arrives not bemoaning its existence.


“America, we need to talk. I’ve been away for awhile and though I miss certain aspects of you, I really don’t miss others.”

This is the thought I’ve had multiple times over the last few months. Like I could have this crazy, analytical conversation with a whole country, or really just the stereotype of a country. And yes, I probably shouldn’t listen to stereotypes and some of you may be saying, “Who cares about stereotypes? We’re America!” But let’s look at the progress here folks- I can find fault in my home country and even more than that, I can point out things I am wary to return to. Progress!

When my mom has some constructive criticism, she says “May I just say…” And America, may I just say, we have a cell phone problem. I mean, we use them ALL THE TIME. And we don’t just use them in our cars or our homes or offices. We use them everywhere. I really noticed it in New York. I lived in New York for three years without a smart phone- just an old brick phone. For the entire time Josh and I dated in New York, I was using good old SMS texting. I had to look up places on a map before I left the previous place. When we visited New York, I physically ran into people multiple times because we were on our phones looking up where to go. This is a good thing that cell phones have done for us. But a lot of people are missing out on an amazing city and the ridiculous things that only happen there because they are looking down into a phone screen to see a virtual picture of what is in front of them.

But, before I sound like a crazy old person talking about the good old days, here’s what I really want to talk about. We are so, so very loud. I come from a loud family. In the past, I have been described as a loud person. But I love that people are quiet here. People speaking on phones in public is rare. I feel rude when I do it. On subways, trams and buses, you cannot hear other conversations very well. Unless they are British or American. Then you can hear it. And yes, I did wonder if it was just that I only really heard English conversations and could ignore French ones. So I did an experiment. Long story short, it is not about the language. It is about the volume.

Once in church, a former pastor and his family came back to visit. They were thanking the congregation for the things they had learned during their time at the church. The pastor’s wife said, “Thank you for teaching us to speak more quietly.” After they shared, the woman sitting in front of me turned and asked, “Did that resonate with you? The loud part? As an American?” Taking a deep breath, I chose to not be personally offended and instead shared my own realization that America is a loud place. And then realized my voice and volume have decreased significantly since moving here.

Another example: An American friend came to visit and we were explaining the honor system for public transportation. You buy tickets but it is rare to be checked. . My friend, in her normal tone of voice, asked, “So you didn’t pay for your tickets? You NEVER pay for your tickets?” We got a few looks that time. And yes, we do pay for our tickets especially now that you can pay via text message. And because if you get caught forgetting to buy them three times, you can be deported

But don’t feel too badly. All English speakers tend to be loud. Case in point: a few friends went skiing with us and to get to the slopes, we had to take a very long telepherique ride to the base of the resort. It usually takes five minutes. Since it was early in the day, the cabin was very full. Something happened two minutes in and the cable car stopped, swinging above the trees and valley below. Everyone was fine for the first few minutes and then the car moved a little and everyone got very quiet. Except a British guy (full disclosure: he may have been Australian) who narrated the entire twenty minute adventure on his phone. “Oh, sorry love, the car just dropped again. Yeah, everyone’s pretty nervous. Oh yeah, I mean, this whole thing could fall. People are really scared.” Everyone hated that guy.

One of the reasons I can be so much quieter here is that everyone I would talk to is asleep for the first half of the day (see previous post here). And I think that has taught me a valuable lesson about filling my time and ears. I have found I like quiet. In college, I studied in coffee shops because silence was so foreign to the Anderson in me. When your brother has a band that practices in the basement every day, a lack of noise indicates something is very wrong. Yes, I leave my phone on silent and miss a few calls but I also get to remember that there is something good about not always being in the loop and not always being available to everyone. It’s humbling to realize not everyone wants to hear you. And more than that, it’s polite to be quiet.

I’m not perfect in this regard. Get me around other Americans or get me upset about something and I can get loud. But we are drowning in noise. I cannot begin to describe how jarring it is to land at Dulles and hear everyone’s personal conversations as soon as the seatbelt sign is off. I don’t particularly care to hear everyone’s opinions about their meals or their flights or the latest problems they are having with their moms. 

But, I wanted to make you aware of the not-so-far-off-base stereotype that is floating around out there. Maybe we can work on it. Until then, I am just enjoying the fact that there is another thing I like more about living in Europe. Progress!

The Times They are A-Changing

One of my least favorite things about living here is actually turning out to be really good for me. I feel like that sentence might sum up my whole time in Geneva. Things that I think are terrible or stupid or backwards actually end up helping me or improving me or keeping me from doing something bad. Case in point: the time difference. It is my very least favorite part about living in Europe while our family and closest friends live in the States. It means that when we travel back to visit them, we are jetlagged. Not just us but our children who are too young to understand what time is let alone why we have time zones. I mean, Forest thinks two minutes is longer than five minutes. All they know is that they slept in until 9 am their time which unfortunately translates to 3 am East Coast time and I spend the next four hours trying to keep them quiet despite it feeling like lunchtime to their little confused internal clocks.

But this morning, I decided I should actually be grateful for the time difference. I got upset about something petty that someone had done. I said something to Josh but then wanted to keep griping about it to a friend or two (or three). I went to find someone to call or text or send a g-chat message to and realized “They’re all asleep.” That was the first step in gaining a little perspective. This perceived slight was not worth waking up my close friends or family members to whine about it. But I really wanted to. I wanted to get everyone to validate how I was feeling. I wanted to say, “Can you believe this?” and have someone say, “No, I cannot believe it. You are exactly right to feel as you do.” But my closest friends were fast asleep. I pictured how angry they would be if I woke them at 3 am. Instead, I had to sit on this grumbling for six hours.

I recently read a book about envy and it talked a lot about how we treat one another. One pattern the book identified is that envy always involves taking something even it is just taking from someone’s reputation by speaking poorly of them. When I envy someone’s busy life and make comments about how she should probably take more time for herself it is a small but appealing way to cut her down. Or if I see someone prioritizing his time differently than I do and I judge him. That was exactly what I wanted to do this morning. But I did not just read the book on envy and say, “I want to keep this whole envy thing up” but rather, “Wow, I should probably try to change my ways a bit.” And that is when I recognized that maybe this whole time difference thing is a blessing in disguise. Instead of sitting in front of my computer or on my phone and spewing meanness, I went for a walk with our dog. I thought about why I was reacting so strongly and recognized envy and malice (my most prevalent character flaw- just ask Josh who sometimes affectionately calls me Captain Malice). I had six hours to decide how to react and ended up choosing to not say anything else. And honestly, it did not take all six. It probably took one. I even made a productive game plan for how to address the issue with the proper person and did not mention it to anyone else.

I am not anywhere close to where I would like to be with regard to envy and malice. I don’t want to struggle with them. But I do and maybe that’s just another reason we moved to Geneva. God’s got to make sure I have six hours to think through anything mean or dumb I might say or do. They say you should count to ten before saying anything you might regret. Well, I just get to count to 21,600. And I might need all of those.