Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Season of Losses

Its been a sad couple of months, starting with our cat’s death, and a friend’s death. We grieve Pete, we miss him, and we ask ourselves if we made a big mistake thinking a knee operation would be the right thing, if he would have lived happily without it? Pete was in pain. There were days he couldn’t go up the stairs. There were days he spent almost the entire day in his heated bed. We didn’t see a lot of options. Other sad news has hit; it feels like a season of losses.

In the Lectionary readings, we are reading Job, Ayyoub, and I think if my friend who said “Al-hamdallah!” when I told her my father is dying. I learned so much from her. She made me understand I am to thank God even for the bad things, it is God’s will, and a part of a bigger picture I will never see. And then this morning, I saw a reference to an old post, a post from 2006, a post I don’t even remember writing.

Thorns
Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.

Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole that from her.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come for the holiday.

Then Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. She has no idea what I’m feeling, thought Sandra with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I….I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Just then the shop door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara…let me get your order.” She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” Barbara, replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest. And she left with her order.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh….she just left with no flowers!

“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.

“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for the good things in my life and never questioned the good things that happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask questions! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”

Just then someone else walked in the shop. “Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving Special….12 thorny, long-stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific “problem” and give thanks for what that problem taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”

“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life.” Sandra said. “It’s all too…fresh.”

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”

It read: “My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses; thank him for your thorns!

I know God can bring great good out of all things. I have seen this in my own life, out of the worst circumstances can come good I could never have foreseen. I am praying this fervently; that he will bring great good out of all circumstances.

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Character, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

“You’re Not From Around Here”

“Did she just say what I thought she said? my co-leader asked me, and I laughed.

“You mean ‘You’re not from around here?'” I said, which was not exactly what she had said but was exactly what she meant. He laughed.

“Exactly!” he said, and he laughed.

She had not used those exact words, but, uncomfortable with some of the questions our diplomats were asking, and clearly over her head, she had turned to me and asked me how long I’d been here, and dismissing me, told the group she had been here all her life, etc. I hadn’t been arguing with her. I hadn’t said a word. I was just the nearest dog to kick, someone on whom she could vent her frustration.

It’s so human. I’ve never lived anywhere that I didn’t hear some version of it, rarely to my face, usually about others, but it’s a fall-back position and it is present in every culture.

I told him about my many moves – 31 – and my cat theory. When you bring a new cat into a house with cats, you shut the new cat in a room (with food and litter, you know, cat things) until the other cats get used to the smell. Then you allow the new cat among the old cats for a short time and put it away again. You do this for a couple days, and then allow the cat to be among the other cats with you present to see how it goes. Sometimes it takes a while for the new cat to be accepted. Sometimes a cat just fits right in.

I told him I do the same thing, when I get to a new place I just quietly show up, in church, in a new group or two, and stay quiet. I watch who sits with whom, I listen to what they say. Sometimes one time with a group is enough, and I know it’s never going to be a good fit and I don’t go back. Other groups, I just keep showing up but I stay quiet . . you know, letting them get used to my “smell,” LOL.

Most of the time, I fit right in. It doesn’t take that long. Every now and then I run into a cat who doesn’t appreciate my presence, and I have to make a decision. Usually it is a bully-cat who can sniff our my independence and irreverence in spite of my deferential behavior; sometimes I will stick around, sometimes I back away. You’re not going to change a bully-cat, and I am not one for a cat-fight. The bully-cats often do themselves in and implode.

This woman was busy imploding.

My generally enthusiastic group was quiet when they got back on the bus, and I let them be. I really didn’t want to deal with this meeting, either.

The next day, we all talked. I asked what they had learned from the meeting and one diplomat, the most outspoken, said “Learned nothing! She talked and talked and talked (she was doing that hand thing that means a person is talking and talking) and she never answered a single question!”

A second diplomat laughed and said “Like a diplomat, only we are better at it” and everyone laughed.

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Moving, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency, Work Related Issues | 7 Comments

Creeping Towards September

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This is the hottest part of the summer. You’d think in late August things would start cooling down a little, but no, we hit a record high last week and we haven’t had a good rain for weeks.

September is worse. When I think September, I think back to school, sweaters and wool skirts. Even in Seattle, it is too warm in September for sweaters and wool skirts; the afternoons can get really warm in September. In Pensacola, it’s just mostly a continuation of an endless August, a waiting for October. The only hint of winter is a slight cooling of night time temperatures.

I dream of Alaska, of Montana, and North Dakota, I dream of cool nights sleeping with an open window, I dream of featherbeds and brisk walks on chilly mornings . . .

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Weather | Leave a comment

Taqueria Olgy in Pensacola

Some of our friends have no idea what life is like in places like Qatar and Kuwait, it’s like they think we lived in tents in the desert. They don’t know about all the sky scraping apartment blocks, the spacious villas – and they don’t know about the ubiquity of take-out food and good restaurants. We could find almost everything we wanted, and reveled in the variety, the only thing we could not get was genuine Mexican food. You could go to Chili’s or Taco Bell, but for the real deal? No where.

So in Pensacola, we are blessed to have several very good Mexican restaurants, the Cal-Mex and the Tex-Mex kind, where sour cream and lettuce and guacamole bless every plate, but every now and then, we look for where the Mexicans are eating – and we found a new one, well, new to us, and not too far away.

 

Taqueria Olgy is in a small strip mall just south of Beverly on “W” street. It’s the first mall on your left as you drive south and you had better keep your eyes wide open or you will miss it; the signage is not that significant.

 

Inside, it is very spacious, maybe two strip mall sections that have merged, lots of booths, and lots of loyal customers. The menus are in English, and there are photos everywhere to help you choose. We were there at lunch and had the lunch specials. I haven’t had a chile relleno for a long time, so I choose the #1 special, a chili relleno and a taco (you could choose the kind of meat) Al Pastore. Oh YUMMMMM.

 

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AdventureMan had the taco plate and said his was also really good. He liked it so much that while I was with the group last week, he went back and had the soup of the day and the #1 chile relleno with taco that I had.

00TaqueriaOlgyTacos

We are still huge Taco Rock fans, but hey, it’s August, the temperatures are in the soaring and searing mode, and Taqueria Olgys is also well air conditioned. We feel so blessed to have such great authentic places to choose from.

Now, if only a good Ethiopian restaurant would come to Pensacola . . . ;-)

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Cultural, Eating Out, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant | 3 Comments

What Do You Wear When It Gets Really Hot?

00SoukDress1The people in my group last week suffered greatly in the high temperatures and high humidity we are experiencing. I must be adapting a little; I remember being thankful for the breeze.

“What do you wear when it gets this hot?” they asked me, “like around the home?”

I laughed. I learned a thing or two in Tunis, in Amman, in Tabuk and Riyadh, in Kuwait and in Doha. At home, I dress like local women, in long loose dresses.

Or worse. I dress like their maids. In the souks you could find wonderful, 100% cotton dresss that were loose and flowing, and that is good in hot weather so the air can circulate. Some of the dresses were nicer, but the dresses I liked a lot for just being around the house doing what people do, like making sure the dishes are done and a meal prepped, doing a little quilting or reading . . . you could buy these great little dresses for about $3.00 in the souks. Not only were they practical – especially when you live in a house with a cat, and always put on “real” clothes just as you are about to run out the door so you don’t have any cat hair on you – but they came in great colors and prints, designs that made me happy to put them on.

 

Now, one of my all time favorite dresses, in purple and black, has bit the dust. I liked it because it had some geometrics, and the geometrics changed, and – it was purple. I have worn it for about six years now, and I have worn it out. I mended it several times when the underarm seams ripped:

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But now, it has gotten all soft, so soft the material just rips easily with holes that cannot be mended.

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I like this dress so much I am saving it and cutting it up so it will have another new life as a quilt :-)

And I am thinking it is time to plan a trip back to Doha and Kuwait to replenish my hot weather dresses :-)

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Jordan, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Saudi Arabia, Shopping, Tunisia | 2 Comments

A Surprise From Kuwait

I had a really super group of diplomats in town this week, really smart people dealing with serious topics – arms control, human rights, freedom of the press, immigration – and the appointments were fabulous. They were greeted at Baskervile-Donovan by a German speaker, coffee and cakes, and the presentation was a clear outline on corporate fund raisers, goals, and candidate selection.

We had a few extra minutes before our next appointment, and as we were just next door to Joe Patti’s, I took them there for a peek into life for “real” Pensacolians. Of course, they loved Joe Patti’s.

While I was there, my phone rang and it was a stranger, telling me she had a package for me from a friend in Kuwait. When could she bring it by?

You know how sometimes it’s hard to think? My mind was full with my delegation, but I set a time – and I was at Joe Pattis, so I quickly bought some cookies to serve and headed out for our next appointment.

When I said goodbye to the delegation for the last time and headed home, I put the coffee on and prepared for my Kuwait guests. They arrived and we had a wonderful visit, a friend in common and lots to talk about. And oh my, the packet my friend sent, full of fabrics from the Kuwait souks, a care package for my quilting addiction:

00KuwaitFabric

Even better – and it feels so wonderful to have a friend who understands me so well – look at the bag she sent them in! It is SO adorable! It is something I would have bought in a heartbeat, so unique, so special! My heart is dancing with ideas for a new quilt!

00FabricBag

Thank you, Hayfa :-) for a real treat, both the fabrics and the friend you sent to carry the package :-)

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Shopping | 2 Comments

And Fifteen Chickens?

This guy is a disaster. So sad, nuts with guns, and who suffers? He claims his dog jumped out of the truck, causing the accident (dog died) and then his truck rolls over and all these legal and illegal weapons fall out, and fifteen chickens??? IED’s???

From today’s AOL News

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By RYAN GORMAN

Officers responding to a single-SUV crash Friday in West Virginia found bombs, drugs, guns and more than a dozen chickens inside the vehicle – and may have thwarted a domestic terror attack.

Seth Grim, 21, somehow managed to roll the SUV off a highway about 40 miles northeast of Charleston. Police found four improvised explosive devices, two AK-47s, a rifle and about 15 chickens inside the vehicle, police said. They also uncovered a large amount of marijuana.

Authorities also found about 10 loaded magazines and body armor, they could possibly have halted a major tragedy. Two of the bombs were six inches long, two were four inches long, police said.

Grim’s Ford Explorer rolled off Interstate 79 at around 3:30 a.m., police told the West Virginia Gazette.

Grim apparently blamed the wreck on his rottweiler, which he told police jumped out the window while he was speeding down the highway, Office of Emergency Services Director Melissa Gilbert told AOL.

The dog was found dead several yards away, Roane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Mike King told AOL.

West Virginia State Police arrived on the scene shortly after and found the chickens inside a cage, said Gilbert.

A number of the chickens were dead on the road and a few others escaped, said King. They were not recovered. Also scattered on the road were a few of the loaded magazines.

Cops also found multiple improvised explosive devices, assault rifles and several loaded clips stashed inside with the chickens, according to Gilbert.

King shot down reports Grim was on the run from police in Pennsylvania. Police are not clear where he was heading or what his intentions were. Several agencies are waiting to speak with him, according to the officer.

Grim suffered minor upper body injuries but was immediately arrested. The potentially dangerous man also declared himself a “sovereign citizen” upon his incarceration, according to Gilbert.

A bomb squad took the bombs to a secure location to be detonated out of harm’s way, Gilbert said.

Sovereign citizens often refuse to pay taxes as a form of protest against the federal government. They are seen by the FBI as domestic terrorists.

Terry Nichols, who helped plan the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, is the most infamous sovereign citizen.

A call to local police seeking further information about the charges filed against Grim and to find out why he was running from police in Pennsylvania was not immediately returned.

Only the marijuana and IEDs are illegal in West Virginia, according to King. Grim faces four felony counts for possessing them.

He remains in a West Virginia jail.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Character, Crime, Cultural, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Safety | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Serious Heat Coming In

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I’m almost embarrassed to post this !Alert from the WeatherUnderground people about the Heat wave hitting the Gulf, only because I see the temperatures in Kuwait have been hitting in the 113 – 115°F range and a part of me feels like I missed a speeding bullet.

On the other hand, these three days I have a group of delightful women in town and I am shepherding them from place to place, and they are all air-conditioned to the freezing ice-box stage, which being an Alaska girl I actually kinda like, but . . . then you open the door into summer and it just about knocks me over.

Although, I will admit, there was one place, along Palafox, where when I sat on a bench around 2:00 pm, there was a breeze and it wasn’t at all bad.

But as hot as it is, the real hot is coming, or so the alert tells us:

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 7.41.43 PM Coastal Escambia Severe Watches & Warnings NOAA Weather Radio
Special Statement
Statement as of 1:40 PM CDT on August 20, 2014
…Potentially dangerous heat conditions through the weekend…

High pressure over the region will allow for progressively hotter temperatures through Friday with no relief expected over the weekend. High temperatures on Thursday will range from around 97 over inland areas to 92 near the immediate coast. Hotter temperatures are expected on Friday with highs ranging from around 99 inland to around 95 at the immediate coast. Highs on Saturday and Sunday will be similar and range from around 98 inland to 94 at the coast.

With plenty of Gulf moisture still over the region…heat index values will be at least 102 to 107 each afternoon…and areas closer to the coast will have locations around 108…possibly around 110 on Friday when the hottest temperatures are expected.

Children…the elderly…and people with chronic ailments are usually the first to suffer from the heat. Heat exhaustion…cramps or in extreme cases heat stroke can result from prolonged exposure to these conditions.

Persons working or playing sports outdoors from late morning through this afternoon are urged to drink plenty of water and sport drinks…taking frequent breaks to prevent overheating. Refrain from the Intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Remember to check on relatives and neighbors…especially the elderly to make sure they have adequate air conditioning.

Also…do not Forget about your pets. Pets should be brought indoors…especially during the heat of the day. If pets must be kept outdoors…provide shade and plenty of fresh water. Livestock are also vulnerable.

We miss the Qatari Cat. AdventureMan takes it harder than I do; I’ve had two dreams in which he is happy, and FREE. I heard him thinking that life with us was good, but he was born to be a cat and now he is FREE. He was the sweetest little cat, and I live in horror that the operation we chose to have so that his quality of life would be better killed him and that his last week was horrible for him. I track the alternatives. None of them were good. I just hate that it ended in a hospital situation instead of in the quiet haven of our home. We still grieve, we miss his presence.

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Pensacola, Qatteri Cat, Survival, Weather | Leave a comment

“You Can Be Right, Or You Can Be Happy”

As AdventureMan and I were trying a new place for lunch yesterday, the booth next to us filled with a group of roofers (roofers have a lot of good business in a place like Pensacola which gets both heavy winds and heavy rains). While they were not talking overly loud, one had a voice that carried and he shared with his friends – and us – a rule of life his Grandfather had told him.

“You can be right, or you can be happy.”

We laughed. When AdventureMan wants to annoy me, he tells other people that the reason we’ve been married so long is that whenever we disagree, he apologizes.

Hilarious.

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Civility, Communication, Cultural, Family Issues, Humor, Pet Peeves | Leave a comment

$10M For Me!

Yeh. Right.

Karen Diamond kdiamond@obps.org

From: Karen Diamond
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 2:54 AM
To: Karen Diamond
Subject:

My name is Mrs. Rachel Williams, 72 yrs old widow.I got your contact information from a Christian website. I decided to bequeath the sum of $10,000,000.00 to you. Please Contact My Lawyer on email for more information (Contact; zenithlawfirm@rogers.com TELL: +447031975915 )

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Crime, Lies, Scams | Leave a comment

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