My confidant, My soldier, My heart

Many hearts are surely saddened to learn that Uncle Henry has completed his mission in this life. But he reminds me that life on earth is a trust.

Our time on earth and our energy, intelligence, opportunities, relationships and resources are all gifts from God that He has entrusted to our care and management. We are stewards of whatever God gives us.

“The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord; the earth and all who live on it are His.” Psalm 24:1

The Lord blessed me by trusting Uncle Henry with my care. Many of you may remember he came into my life with a partner. They were quite the duo Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She was always the athletic one, he was always the cuddly one.

Uncle Henry and Auntie Em

They had nine great years together and were never apart except her last year when she went for her radiation treatments. She was such a trooper but very clearly told me when it was time for her to move on to her next life.

I wasn’t sure what to do for Uncle Henry, whether I should get him another companion or not, but God did. He had a plan for Uncle Henry and I. The week after Auntie Em passed, I was offered a new job. One that required the most courage I have ever had to summon. And so, I went to Switzerland and told Uncle Henry we would figure things out. He stayed and kept an eye on things here at home for a while. I wasn’t sure how to manage with him in Switzerland, but after a few months there, I also know I couldn’t manage without him. My life was in turmoil, so God gave me a project – international dog relocation. If you’ve never done it – Shawn and Sarah as my witness – it can be the most stressful of situations. And just when I thought we were ready, Uncle Henry tore his CCL and I elected to have his recovery here stateside. Weeks later, when once again I thought we were ready to go, our plans were foiled due to a missing microchip – I swear I don’t know to this day what he did with it.

Uncle Henry’s new front door

But finally, he made his first 5,380 mile trip and our new journey began.

Apartment life was different for both of us. The whole notion of having to take him out for walks and bathroom breaks was a scheduling adjustment. However, the Swiss are more dog friendly than people friendly I think and so, the biggest adjustment was that, wherever I went, Uncle Henry went.

He went to work with me and stayed at my desk. It was fabulous having him there. No more days where I would sit endlessly on the phone or staring at the computer. No, with Uncle Henry, we had to get up and take a walk every now and then. And when we weren’t up and about, the entire office was coming to see us. They would bring him treats, they would come by to greet him in the mornings, and some just wanted to take him for a walk. He was the most popular and well liked guy in the office. He loved it!

We went to restaurants, shops, the dry cleaners, the pharmacy – absolutely everywhere! And the Swiss love their dogs. All of the shop owners have dog treats for their four-legged visitors. Uncle Henry was in HEAVEN! He was getting treats everywhere we went. And the restaurants, well they would bring him water before they would ever even take notice that I was there. But Uncle Henry was also drawing special attention – the Swiss don’t allow dogs with cropped ears and tails as they find it inhumane. Uncle Henry was only allowed in the country because he came with me. Which means, most Swiss had never seen a Corgi before.

And his natural charm served him well. Everywhere we went, people would want to greet him and pet him and take pictures with him. I remember thinking it was like walking Brad Pitt on a leash. We couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped. I swear if I had given him my Sharpie, he’d have learned to sign his autograph.

After Uncle Henry arrived, I found my sea legs and really began to travel. At first, we went all over Switzerland, by car, by tram, by train, by cablecar, by boat. He rode them all. We would request a “Hund” ticket and away we went. He loved every second of it. When we would stay overnight, I would call ahead to make sure we had a dog friendly hotel, which wasn’t hard because, I came to find out, they all are. We would arrive in the room and they would have a dog bed, a blanket, a bowl and dog treats. There would even be maps to indicate places to take your dog for a walk. Not only did he love it, I think he thought he was the one taking me on a journey. Whereever we would walk, he was always in the lead. Seriously. And if we came across bigger dogs, he would always bark to them as if to say, “Don’t even think of messing with her.” He was my front line, my protector.

Walking the French vineyards

Most of you know that when we arrived, Uncle Henry got his own Passport!!! It enabled him to go freely between Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Austria…..and so… we did! We went to Christmas markets in France and Austria – after which my arms were exhausted as Uncle Henry “hoovered” the streets looking for bits and bites of the smorgasbord of dropped food. He rode in gondolas up to the top of many of the Alps and rode like a champ. He wasn’t allowed in churches but there was always someone that wanted to watch him while I spent some time giving thanks.

We toured the Swiss and French vineyards, attended festivals all over Switzerland, supported the American style football Zurich Renegades and watched the NFL playoffs at Hooters. We made it to Oktoberfest in Munich and walked the streets of Paris. We spent last Valentine’s day together in Dijon and celebrated Easter in Verona. When friends and family came to visit, Uncle Henry was always there. He made new friends faster than I could. And a few of the four-legged variety. Randy introduced us to Cowboy and they both attended all of our Aggie Musters! While I wasn’t sure about Uncle Henry and the altitude of the mighty Jungfrau, which Cowboy handled like a real Ag, Uncle Henry did come to the bar with us later where he wandered behind the bar and helped the owner serve all us rowdy Ags – good bull!

Uncle Henry bartending

His angel Ladda

 

But there was one friend he made, more special than the rest. She is an angel on earth and her name is Ladda. It was love at first sight between Uncle Henry and Ladda. My job kept me in London almost once a week and the Swiss dog hotels are better than most hotels I stay in, but Ladda offered to watch over Uncle Henry soon after they met and he rarely went to a dog hotel again. They became best friends and when Ladda would go on walks without him, people would stop her on the street and ask where he was. She would pamper him with the most magnificent treats and always make special recipes when he wasn’t feeling well. After we moved back to Texas, she would call to FaceTime with him, he would hear her voice and I am very sure he knew it was her.

Ladda would worry about him when he would fly back to Texas with me for visits but he was cool. Flying him aged me however by 1000 years. After our first flight, I became quite good friends with ACE Pet Movers based at the Zurich airport. If you EVER want to know anything about flying a pet, please call them. They work all over the world and are truly a blessing for pet owners. They helped me understand how to fly him without their services and I am so grateful. Rachel, Patrick, Tara, you were there for me on so many of these trips. It is tricky to place your heart in someone else’s care – that’s what it felt like every time I flew him. And Tara…….you are the only reason I didn’t have a heart attack each time we landed at IAH with him.

For those of you that didn’t get the “joy”, let me describe the flight day:

  • 3:30am alarm goes off
  • 4:45am depart apartment using an unhappy Uber driver because I have a dog, a kennel, a carry on and two 70lb bags full of wine and chocolate – they don’t drive SUVs over there.
  • 5:30am arrive Zurich airport. Grab 2 carts and Uncle Henry leads me in. He and I get all the bags checked and head to the other counter to pay for him. Then we head for the door for one last walk outside.
  • 6:00am I put Uncle Henry in his kennel, zip tie the door and put some ice cubes on his tray, kiss him on the nose and tell him I’ll see him in Houston.

    Making his connecting flight

  • 6:45am I’m watching him out my window being loaded and if I can’t see him, I ask the flight attendant to confirm he is on board. The pilot comes back and assures me “Uncle Henry is safely boarded” and he’ll have his eye on him the whole flight.
  • 7:00am take off for Frankfurt.
  • 8:00am arrive in Frankfurt. Race off the plane and to the window where Uncle Henry should be the first unloaded. Once I see they have his kennel, I race like OJ Simpson to our gate ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AIRPORT. I won’t be able to see him loaded there, but once I’m in my seat, I once again ask the flight attendant to confirm he is onboard and once again, the pilot comes back to calm my nerves and tell me he’s got Uncle Henry under his watch.
  • 9:00pm Zurich time (2:00pm Houston), we land at IAH. I race to baggage claim and load up all my crap on one cart and then race to the big bags where I await Uncle Henry’s kennel. Usually about 15 minutes later, they push him out with a smile on his face. RELIEF, but we’re not done yet. I recklessly maneuver and race with two lloaded carts through the “special” lane for customs and have Uncle Henry’s passport hanging out of my mouth trying to be speedy. Once cleared, I run, two carts wobbling around in front of me and rush through the big doors to arrivals. There she is, as always, our savior Tara! She’s got a knife and we cut the tie straps on Uncle Henry’s kennel, I grab him in my arms and we run for the door. Tara is left with all our stuff! I know the ONE spot outside of Terminal E where there is a spot of grass and Uncle Henry does too. FINALLY. a very long day for him, but he’s happy to have a bathroom break. Then we happily trot back inside where Tara has a cup of water from Starbucks waiting for him…..and the three of us would go laughing all the way to the truck for the trip to Fields Store…..  WHEW!!!!! Uncle Henry and I could never thank Tara enough.

And so, the world traveler he was. And so happy.

The last year we were in Switzerland, he was showing his age and I remember my prayers “God, just get us back to Texas before he goes. I just don’t know how I would handle his passing here. If I can just get him home to Auntie Em, I’ll know what to do….” And God allowed that for me.

He was happy and healthy. 14 and 1/2 wonderful years blessed to me.

Thank you all for your love and care of Uncle Henry. Mom and Jeff, thanks for all the times I needed you to care for him here stateside. He loved all of the gifts everyone would send and bring when you all visited.What a full and blessed life! Thank you God for the beautiful blessing of this companion. My confidant, my soldier, my heart.

My confidant, my soldier, my heart

Some personal (re)(un)branding upgrades

Branding…it’s what I do…….sometimes with a pen, sometimes with a hot iron, either way and, simply put, it’s about ensuring you’re marking a product in a way that best communicates what it is. Sometimes, when a products goes through a major upgrade, you may need to rebrand to make sure the brand accurately reflects the improved product.

So, get out your address books and your white out……while I’ve been busy culling the number of mobile devices and phone numbers that I can be reached on from any country code on the planet (I’m currently down to just 2!) I’ve also been busy with the US Government, explaining to them that the name my father, Robert Wayne, and mother, Linda Sue, gave me is a far more accurate description than anything I’ve personally and professionally been known as for the last 20 years. The Swiss government, on the other hand, was not entertained in the least by my attempt to do such with my Swiss bank accounts. (No one said the Swiss were branding experts.)

Introducing #JenniferLayneWelch version 2.0. Many of you have likely had experience with #JenniferLayneWelch version 1.0, which is similar, but version 2.0 is much more sophisticated and even being called bold and courageous. In fact, she’s the much upgraded version of #JenniferLayneDuhon version 1.5 as this new version has superior intelligence and decision making capabilities.

The change over shouldn’t adversely impact you but you should notice an uptick in Google search trends for #JenniferLayneWelch as reviews are on fire and AdAge is predicting a rebranding success of epic proportions.

Isaiah 43:1
But now thus said the LORD that created you, O Jacob, and he that formed you, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine.

Herds and hearts

So, my European journey took a turn in May and pointed me westward…..back to the ranch. The bricks and stones were still here. As were the beating hearts. The Bruner Road Home Owner’s Association had been working overtime the last few years making sure all was right in the neighborhood. Most of you know Tara was the Chief of Operations and Animal Lifestyle Management. I doubt Mickey and Minnie thanked her properly for the lavish lifestyle of retirement they seemed to enjoy, but I know Clyde gave her kisses on a regular basis. (It looks like he is licking your skin off, but I promise, those are just his sloppy kisses)

It’s been a much longer readjustment period than I would have ever imagined. I know where home is, but the journey over the last 4 or so years has made me quite comfortable all over the world. I have new friends on ever corner of the earth and plan to build those relationships even farther. (This journey is far from over!)

There is, however, one thing every cowgirl must have, a reliable ride for those days when she just needs to fill her soul with the quite calmness that only a horse can provide her. Yes, Clyde is still full of love and personality, but Waco was my steady guy when I needed to jump on and get a different perspective on things. And every animal lover knows, you don’t replace those relationships, you build new ones.

Enter Eli.

MEET ELI

As my friend Rachel likes to say, sometimes you get a tug inside and you need to pay attention to those tugs. Well last Wednesday night I had a big one and less than 48 hours later, Eli was in the trailer headed home with me.

I’m not sure my medical insurance is going to think this is the best idea I’ve ever had – if any of the Catalena Cowgirls want to come watch this rodeo, be sure to grab a beer or four….. But he caught my attention like a sparkly 10 carat diamond on a pair of red Jimmy Choo stilettos!

Y’all come meet Eli when you can, we’ll grab some saddles and see what happens! No matter, we’ll have some stories to tell after.

 

And the journey continues~

Walt Disney said “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

This wasn’t part of my plan, actually, I didn’t have a plan –  seems like the story of my life the last few years – but here we go, ready or not! The moving truck is showing up on my doorstep in Zurich next Tuesday and by Thursday afternoon, this wandering Texas Cowgirl will be back in God’s country.

A couple of weeks ago, I said Thank You to all of the people who have taken me by the hand and by the heart over the last 4 plus years. Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

I can assure my Texas family and friends that I have been surrounded by love, generosity and adventure!

My Swiss colleagues made me cry by presenting me with the most awesome gift ever – a Swiss Cowbell with my name engraved on it! Honestly, it is my most prized possession from my time here in Switzerland. I can’t wait to show it to everyone back home!

My very own Swiss Cowbell

My very own Swiss Cowbell

Of course the Swiss Ol Army club got together for one last hurrah! Randy – thanks for bringing Cowboy over and tell him Uncle Henry wants him to come visit soon. James, I’ll see you and Jenny on the other side of the pond. Marianne & JJ – I owe you the world! You were the very first to reach out to me and make me feel welcome and comfortable! Do you remember ZZ Top?? I know God crossed our paths for a reason – I mean, I come 5380 miles away to meet Aggies that know my WINGMAN Charles Williams! Love you guys!

My Aggie family!

My Aggie family!

My girlfriends! You are lovely lovely women! You have beautiful hearts and I am so happy that we have been able to share such wonderful experiences! Thank you for your kindness and your smiles!

Beautiful women!

Beautiful women!

Each of you has a special place in my heart – one minute I want to become an Italian and the next, I’m going to spend half of the year in Greece and the other half on Majorca! The world is big but at the same time, so very small. You have each given me a reason to place my flag on every point on the map – I want to experience it all!

Watch out Poland - here we come!

Watch out Poland – here we come!

Felicitas – we are going to write that book! But I think you need to come to Texas to do some research 🙂 I have a few Texas Cowboys who would love to help you.

Rachel's margaritas are always a hit!

Rachel’s margaritas are always a hit!

To my special Swiss CIA FBI MI6 agent and his lovely girlfriend – I am so glad it only took Uncle Henry and I four years to build enough trust for you to finally gave us your real name. Don’t worry, I’m tagging you on Facebook but none of my friends will forward this – its all in the “circle of trust”!

"the circle of trust"

“the circle of trust”

Ladda and Johan of course have been by my side every minute since Uncle Henry and I said we’d be headed west. What a blessing they have been in our lives! We fully anticipate Ladda to make her first Texas visit in the very near future so that she and Uncle Henry can go on long walks in the Texas sunshine.

For those of you back in Texas – you know that you have always been in my heart, no matter where I may wander. You have been my stability, my grace, my comfort and the world is ready to come visit you! I can’t wait to hug each of your necks – ready or not, here we come!

Jennifer and Uncle Henry

Happy Anniversary!!!

Here we go!

4 years ago today, I entered IAH airport with a one-way ticket to Zurich. Wow – never saw it coming – and to this day, not entirely sure how I followed through.

The last person I saw was Carol. I laugh thinking about it.  With her big TSA security badge, she made every other TSA screener think I was some VIP on a VIM (Very Important Mission.) She whizzed my two HUGE carry ons through the scanners and if the security folks started to ask a question, she gave them this look like “If you get in my way, you are going to regret it. I know what I’m doing and obviously, you have not been briefed on who this is…”

And when I landed at Charles de Gualle in Paris for my layover, I wished I had Carol with me as I went through security. These two carry ons would make any security guard take a second and third look. One contained every piece of electronic equipment I could carry – laps tops, external hard drives, cameras, phones, chargers, headphones. It just begged to be subject to extra scanning. And the other, well it took Leann and I an entire day to pack it – as it carried every piece of jewelry I owned (checked luggage was not to be trusted). Tell me that’s not a red flag for an individual crossing three country borders.

Carol gave me a long hug, we cried and laughed as she shoved me through the gate. I got on that flight not having a clue what was in store for me. I didn’t know if I would survive a week in what I thought was sure to be sub-arctic conditions and away from every thing and every one I ever knew and loved. My entire personal life was upside down and I was doing all of this for a job (or so I thought).

I didn’t know how the horses and cats would live back in Texas without me. I didn’t know how I would keep the hay cut or the pool clean. And what would become of the house? In Switzerland, I didn’t know where I would live or how I would find friends. How fast could I learn the language? How would it feel to be truly alone? Who would care if my flight landed or didn’t?

And the coming months were the most difficult of my life. I got to a low point where I didn’t know who I was. Everything was dark to me. Mentally and physically I was a wreck. Only my conversations with God got me out of bed each day. Here I was, surrounded by so much beauty, but I couldn’t pick my head up high enough to see an Alp. If something didn’t change soon, I didn’t know how much more I could handle.

Thankfully, God had a plan – and one by one, He sent Polly and Sarah and Rachel to me. And that was the turning point. That’s when I realized how much life I still had.

And how much love I still had.

And how loved I still was.

 

I began to understand my choices…

the choice to be afraid, or the choice to be brave

the choice to live in the past, or the choice to live in the moment

the choice to worry, or the choice to have faith

the choice to focus on me, or the choice to focus on others

the choice to make my own decisions, or the choice to let God lead the way

 

And surprisingly, it was pretty simple after that. I remember it very clearly. It was in those months where I realized, and came to know, the woman I was and the woman I could be. I found my confidence, my sanity and my grace.

IMG_6867

I don’t reflect on those moments four years ago very often, but today, January 29th, I thought I should.

And thinking about the manners my mother taught me, I thought I should say thank you to all of you for walking with me on this journey. For all those that sent me off, for those that stayed in touch, for those that reached out, for those that sent those fantastic care packages of salsa and Whataburger ketchup, for those that have embraced me as though we’ve known each other all of our lives and have shown me all that life can be…….

 

I am hu581905_1239297219444098_1836655011756685086_nmbled and forever in your debt. It’s a great milestone today and I wanted to share it with you and remind you that –  when you think you can’t get up, I will be there to offer my hand.

 

Deoxyribonucleic acid

According to Wikipedia, DNA is a molecule that carries most of the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms.  This information determines how living organisms inherit features from their parents and thereby all their ancestors. And, as far as I know, I came by my DNA naturally. When I was born, it wasn’t likely that experimentation resulted in how my DNA got put together. Thank goodness! I reflected on this today because it would have been the 95th birthday of my Grandmother – Ollie Beatrice Welch.

When I think about who I want to be when I grow up, I generally think about my parents and my grand parents. Through DNA, their traits theoretically would have showed up somewhere in me. Which genes I ended up with is anyone’s guess. Being greedy, I’d want all the good stuff. And, being not very impartial, there was a lot of good stuff to pass on. You’d think I’d have a good shot at being pretty amazing.

Joshua 1:6-9 “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

This was Memom. To me, she demonstrated bravery. She faced many challenges in her life and answered them with courage and determination and faith. She never strayed from what the Good Lord asked of her, she stayed steady and strong. I think she had a devotional on every table in the house. I love most the stories of how she became the first female sales rep at the Western Auto in Waco. The accounts of her crazy road trips across the country with her best friend. And the numerous articles written about her leadership in AWBA. And all of this at a time when women were just coming in their own.

She kept a copy of this:

Elbert Hubbard

If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him. If he pays you wages which supply you bread and butter, work for him; speak well of him; stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents. If put to a pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, resign your position, and when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content, but as long as you are part of the institution do not condemn it. If you do that, you are loosening the tendrils that are holding you to the institution, and at the first high wind that comes along, you will be uprooted and blown away, and will probably never know the reason why. Elbert Hubbard

I come from a family of very strong women. Dear Lord, I hope you made sure I got the good genes. And I pray that you also gave me the wisdom and courage to know what to do with them 🙂

Christmas 2006

Adventures with Ladda and Johann #509

Everyone knows about my wonderful neighbors Ladda and Johann. It seems daily there is a new experience, a new story to tell that involves these two intriguing and lovely versions of Glady Kravitz. And today was no different. Gladys-Kravitz-708x350

To say Johann is a military history fanatic is an understatement. He has some bit of knowledge about every conflict since the beginning of time. He consumes books like he breathes the air. He has details on the underlying cause of any war or battle, and recognizes the combat uniforms and the machinery deployed – as well he knows who sold who which piece of artillery over ever changing borders and alliances. And so, earlier this week he asked if he and Ladda could come over to watch the Russian V Day celebration on my TV as I get some stations that he doesn’t. He was already planning on watching the European memorials, but he needed access to the Russian channels. Of course I said yes, that I’d love to watch the Russian coverage of the event 🙂 (How could I not have had this already on my agenda!)

On Friday I decided I needed to get a bit more detail on what I had signed up for.  On the 8th, the UK, France and others were marking the 70th anniversary of the ending of WWII. Johann told me that the 9th is the day that the head of Germany’s Armed Forces High Command, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, surrendered personally to Joseph Stalin’s representative in Berlin.  And so, the parade would begin at 10am Russian time Saturday morning, taking into the time difference, that would be 8am in Zurich – yikes…..did he just say he was coming over on Saturday at 8am???? Well, I’ll have the coffee and tea ready….but I can’t promise I won’t be in my pajamas.

As expected, the doorbell rang at 7:42am. He was like a kid at Christmas. Johann had already been to the bakery and the smell of fresh croissants quickly brought me to life. I had orange-crasin muffins in the oven and Ladda was happy to bring soft boiled eggs and the homemade prune jam from her best friend. And so the festivities began.

Ready for the parade

Ready for the parade

As we gathered on the couch and got comfortable, we realized that there was a 60 minute countdown on the Russian channel. It took us about 4 minutes to realize that there is no observation of Daylight Savings Time in Russia…DOH…so we were an hour early. Well thank goodness for this as Johann didn’t want to miss a thing!

And as any good news service would do, there was plenty coverage of pre-parade activities (sort of like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day pre-show prep….but different.) The best part was watching all the Heads of State arriving. Of course the commentary was in Russian, so the broadcast wasn’t much help to me, but we had our expert of all things global and political….Johann – he recognized each and every President and diplomat – sometimes he had a good head start because he knew the flags on the cars as the arrived in front of the Kremlin, and some because he recognized the wife – nothing gets by him.

3 hours later, I have to say, we had such a good time. I learned about the statue of Minin in Red Square, the naming of Sukhoi SU 30 fighter jet, the new baby of the mistress of Putin, and how to tell the difference between the KGB uniforms and the FSS. Russian V day parade 1

And with all discussions of the War (WWII), there is always expressed and unexpressed appreciation for “the Americans”. It happens no matter who I am with. I’ve written and shared stories of the phenomenon before. I don’t know if i would have ever had the same opportunity to appreciate our sacrifice and our duty in this way. I am a better American for having been in these sometimes odd situations.

Russian V day parade 2

 

I’ve learned after three years in Zurich with these lovely guardian angels as my neighbors, that sometimes, well most times, some of the best things in life come with no expectations. I have many stories to tell about my adventures with Ladda and Johann, and the best part, is that all of these stories will be etched in my memory for ever. They provide me an experience and an inner growth that has enriched my life. I am a better human, and a better American, for having opened myself up to the sometimes crazy requests of my neighbors.