Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Stall

Yesterday we got word that our move will be delayed by three or four weeks. It’s a technicality, not a major issue.

We are surrounded by boxes.

Several years ago, we were in a similar position, or even worse. We had packed everything, AdventureMan had gone ahead to the next post, and the contract he was managing had a protest, which meant that everything had to stop while all the parts were examined to see if the contract had been awarded fairly.

These things can take time. We were stalled, and awaiting an outcome. I left the boxes packed for six or seven months, then needed to unpack a couple of them for things I couldn’t live without – quilting books.

And then, suddenly, with little warning, the log jam broke, my husband left in a hurry, and we quickly moved, a year later than we intended.

It helps me keep my perspective 🙂

There have been days in this process where I have hated to get up in the morning, knowing I had to tackle the laundry room storage cabinets, or the kitchen, or taking things off the walls and packing them up. Now, we are close to really, really ready, and once again, life is going, at least for a short time, into pause.

I know our great Creator is in charge. I know not to flutter, not to tizz, just to relax and go with the flow. It is easy to say, harder to do.

I think mask-making calls.

May 19, 2020 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Family Issues, Moving | Leave a comment

Maskmaker, Maskmaker, Make Me a Mask

When I headed to the YMCA on Wednesday, it was with a heavy heart. I have loved the reservation only swimming; I have actually felt fairly safe with so few people, and the respect for protecting one another through keeping safe boundaries. Already rumors are abounding that the Governor is about to move rapidly forward with his “evidence based phase-in” headed toward the new normal, and will open gyms.

The same day, I received my word that my sister, who was very sick this winter and was told over and over by her doctor that it was only severe bronchitis, has tested positive for the corona virus antibodies. She had it all along. She kept asking. They told her no.

That, along with my mother’s death from the virus, makes me cautious. We come from long-lived people. We are no match for this virus.

So I headed into the Y knowing that once the gym gets back into full swing, I may have to withdraw until I am certain the virus has diminished in our area, and that the “evidence” is supported by full transparency of the medical examiner’s reports (currently being censored / withheld by executive decision of the very governor who is telling us we will go forward making decisions on these unavailable statistics, nationally reported to be underreported in the state of Florida.)

Excuse me, but WTF??

So I wear my mask into the Y, but I take it off to swim, all that chlorine and I feel safe enough. One of the lifeguards gasps and says “I LOVE your mask! Did you make it?” and I told her I did, that I had made about 150 and given them all away.

“Would you make me one just like it?” she asked.

The mask is made from some fabric I found in the souks in Tunis, when we lived there forty years ago. It is a deep sea blue, and purple, with some black and white for drama, with Berber jewelry motifs, triangles with five pendants, crescents, hands of Fatima. I bought ten yards of the fabric when I saw it, and have used it through the years in projects and quilts, a little here and a little there. I loved it that she had the same immediate emotional response to the fabric that I had.

“I don’t know if I have any of that fabric cut for masks,” I told her honestly, “but I will look.”

I swam my mile and headed home, feeling lighter. I had my tasks outlined for the day, but I am nearing a point where I can’t go further – I’ve already packed items we need, like that spare tube of toothpaste, and my vitamin C serum. I got a little carried away with the packing . . .

So I scurried the rest of the morning, full of energy, and in the afternoon I rewarded myself by allowing myself to go back to mask-making, a place I haven’t been for nearly a month. Masks aren’t hard; I figured out a way I like to do them, and I really like to do them, I like the process, and I love working with the fabrics. Even better, my young friend asking me to make her a mask just like mine breathed new life and hope into my spirit; I was able to finish about fifteen masks and offer them to other staff members and life guards when I went in this morning. As I was working with them, I found just one piece of the fabric she loved, that I love, and it was enough to make her a mask, just like mine.

People around here are more reluctant to wear masks than people in places like Seattle. When I walked in with a selection of masks in lovely fabrics, people were delighted to be able to choose something that pleased them. One lady, when I offered, didn’t hesitate, she said “Oh, I know exactly what I want, I can see it!” and chose a dark blue batik with turquoise stars. Another woman chose a Florentine style ivory print with cranberry and green, and gilt highlights. It was fun for me to see them choose, and I can only hope they will like them well enough to wear them as we work to protect one another from this lurking virus.

May 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, color, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Tunisia, YMCA | Leave a comment

No, No, I Won’t Let Go!

AdventureMan and I make a great team. He is making sure the outside and the garage sparkle, and I am taking care of the inside, except for his office and his personal clothing. He likes to manage those himself, and I can’t blame him.

There are mornings I can barely face another day of packing, and then I remember Fort Leavenworth, when my riding boots arrived, packed without wrapping, in a box with my evening dresses. There was a part of me that felt outraged, dishonored. Who would do such a thing? And another part that empathized with the worker at the end of a long day, packing for a privileged woman who had riding boots, and evening gowns, and saying “what the hell.”

I learned a good lesson. If it matters to you, pack it yourself. If you can’t pack it yourself, have a special crate built for it.

We were so young, but we saved our money and bought a bird cage from Monsieur Samouda, in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia, and had a crate built for it. We’ve had it for forty years now with many moves and no damage.

I have packed a lot of boxes in my life.

I’m finding that there are some things I can part with easily. And then some things I can’t let go.

 

We met and spent our early married years in Germany. This was our wedding candle, lo, those many years ago. I had to stop burning it on our anniversaries when it started to collapse. It still makes me smile. I can’t let go.

My Mother and Father were in the Wednesday night bowling league in Germany, and they were very good bowlers. They were also on the admin board of the league, and were in charge of the prizes, which they often won. Texting back and forth with my sisters today, I learned that they served on that committee to insure that each of the daughters received an identical crystal cookie tree, which my Mother won each year in the final tournament. Post-war Germany was a wonderland for Americans who lived there. I’m not ready to let this go. One sister let hers go long ago, the other is using hers to hold her jewelry.

I know I should let this pot go – I think it is a fish poacher – and I can’t. We bought it in the Souk al Hammadiyya in Damascus. I can tell I have cooked in it once or twice in the forty years I have owned it, not enough to make it valuable for its utility. The reason I can’t let it go is because of the artistry of the handle. Not even that it looks so beautiful, but the bird handle fits perfectly in your hand. It feels GOOD. I’ve never had any pot or pan that had such a sensuously lovely handle. Someone who made this handle really knew what he was doing, and created it with heart.

When my husband came home today, the first thing that happened when he saw the pot was that he reached for the handle, and then asked “are you thinking of parting with this?” I said “No, I can’t.”

I wish you could put your hand on this bird handle. It’s that special.

We have a family message thread with my son and his wife, who are moving to a larger home as we move to a smaller home. I often take photos and say “would you like this?” maybe with an explanation, and they say yes or no.

This time, AdventureMan texted back immediately: “Not the Kuwait Teapot from the Blue Elephant!” and I immediately packed it to take with us. When we first got to Kuwait, he planned to take me out for Valentine’s dinner, not realizing that it was one of the hugest date nights of the year in Kuwait. On Valentine’s Day, he called everywhere looking for reservations, but there were none to be had.

Being American, we like to eat earlier than Kuwaiti people, so I suggested we dress and go to the Blue Elephant, a favorite restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the beach, where we were known. When we got there, there were only a few other couples.

“So go in there and beg,” I suggested with a grin, “Tell them we will eat quickly and be out in an hour.” I think he did exactly that. I don’t know what he said, maybe a little money changed hands, but very soon we were ushered to a table, and reminded that we needed to be out by eight, when the table was reserved.

We had a lovely dinner, at the end of which he bought me the little elephant teapot. What I love is that I am not the only one who can’t let go.  🙂

 

 

May 11, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Marriage, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Tunisia | , , , | Leave a comment

Confronting My Demons

I was showing the handy man a place under my sink which had flooded a while back and needs repair. It looks worse than it is, but it still needs fixing.

“Got enough dish detergent?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

I had hoped he hadn’t noticed. I had been pulling things out from under the sink so he could better see the damage. I hadn’t realized how many bottles of Dawn I had, it was embarrassing. I counted as I packed them away for the move. Nine bottles.

I am really uncomfortable about it, and I know where it comes from.

Growing up in Alaska, things would disappear. I remember my mother measuring us around August and ordering snowsuits. I remember her saying that the last boat would come in and after that it would be too late. People down the road had a cellar where every carrot, every potato, every home-canned tin of salmon or halibut would be toted up on a blackboard to get them through the long winter.

Later, when I married, I had a short overlap in Heidelberg with one of my sisters, whose one word of advice was “When you see something come in to the commissary or the PX and you think you might need it, buy it.”

Living in my early married years in Tunisia and Jordan, I always had to have plenty of some things with me – shoes in graduated sizes for my growing, American footed little son (yes, shoes vary by country, and German shoes are too wide for me, and French shoes are just right), books bought ahead to encourage his love of reading, chocolate chips because they just weren’t available, underwear that fit, things like that which impacted on quality of life.

It became a habit.

Every now and then as I go through the pantry, throwing out expired foods, I get a laugh. One year it might be an excess of mustard, another year I have a load of chicken broth, another year pickle relish, and always, a good supply of chocolate chips. Old habits die hard.

So now it comes to downsizing. I have too much of so many things. I have too many clothes, some from twenty or thirty years ago which I still wear. Too many swimsuits, because when they go on sale, I stock up. Too many towels (but some old ones I keep in case of hurricane, or flooding), too many sheets. We have too many books, and I am getting rid of bags and boxes full, too many fabrics (I got rid of a lot at the beginning of the year, before I even knew I was moving). As I pack boxes, I can hear the Afghani mover at my Kuwait apartment overlooking the Arab Gulf who said “Madame, you have too many things.”

He was right, and his words have echoed through the years, “you have too many things.”

Too many fabrics, too many threads, too many books, too much furniture, too much art. I haven’t even tackled the kitchen yet. I have beautiful brass trimmed copper pots and pans I bought in Damascus forty years ago, how can I give them up? Who will give them a good home? Who will love them just for being beautiful, and hand made?

I have old French things, from the antique fairs and flea markets, lovingly gathered through the years – old copper bedwarmers, a French cavalry trumpet, old tin milk containers. I won’t have space for all these old friends who have brought me so much pleasure, just by their existence, all these years.

My newest strategy is when I have a problem getting rid of something, I will move it. I expect this will be a continuing process, that in our new smaller digs I will look at things differently, more callously, and that necessity will give me some necessary ruthlessness.

Anyone need an extra Christmas tree . . . ?

May 10, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues | | Leave a comment

New Normal at the YMCA

“You think it’s safe?” my good friend asked me, not hiding her concern. “It’s not too soon?”

“It might be,” I replied, “And I really NEED to swim.”

There is a new system for the new normal, I discovered as I arrived a little early for my reservation. Yes, reservations open two days in advance for a 45 minute swim in the lap pool. Today, when I walked in, past the blue lines marked on the floor to keep us six feet apart, there was a man waiting at the door with a little thermal gun-like object which he pressed close to my forehead (I was holding my mask in my hand, LOL), before I could get through to the membership card kiosk. Chatted briefly with a friend who recently lost her husband (old age, not Covid) and then headed for the main desk, to check in for my reservation.

She pointed out the new entry for the pool, a door I had never seen anyone use before, and when I got into the pool area, I was greeted with more information on the new way things were being done. I dropped my bag, marked my lane with my equipment, and showered.

Even though I arrived early, there were two swimmers there before me, and it was still fifteen minutes before the reserved time – no one waited. We all went right to swimming.

 

I felt so blessed. This morning, as I opened my shades, the huge Flower Moon was setting over toward the west, the sky was clear and it was glorious. Now, in my favorite lane, as I swam toward the far end of the pool I swam into shimmering sunlight, and then back into the darker area, back and forth. My first lap was a little rocky, I lost my breath. It’s been two months since I last swam. With the extra 15 minutes, I might come close to my mile, a goal I had reached earlier this year only after months of build-up.

Slowly, the rhythm returned, and I was going back and forth, in and out of the sunlight, and building speed. Around eight, an old swimming comrade arrived and signaled to ask if it was OK if we share a lane. He is always considerate, and sensitive to boundaries, and I was happy to be sharing with him.

Six swimmers in four lanes, and two women exercising in the nearby exercise pool – eight people total, sharing this wonderful, clean, sunny space. What luxury. I felt safe.

I came so close! I came within one lap of completing my mile. It was 8:45 and while no one was pushing me out, everyone else was leaving, so good little lamb that I am, I left too, so the crew can do whatever it is they need to do before the next swimmers arrive, for the 9:00 slot. I didn’t go into the changing room, just dried as best I could and wrapped a Zambian kikoy around me for the drive home, using my towel to protect the seat of the car.

This is not me, this is a photo I found online to show how kikoy can be worn to get one quickly and modestly home rather than having to dry off and change.

I thought I would be tired, exercising hard after two months of no swimming, but no! I had energy! I tackled the linen closet, organized medical kit, linens, boxes of supplies for the upcoming move, and boxed up excess for people who might need them.

May 8, 2020 Posted by | Africa, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Survival, YMCA | , | Leave a comment

We’re Still Married

AdventureMan and I are risk-takers. We set a goal. We identify the resources. We make a plan. Well, he makes his plan and I make mine. We are both strong willed, and under risk-taking, we set ourselves up occasionally, for conflict. Under “we’re still married,” we are pretty good at talking through the disagreements.

Two places we shine: travel and moves.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.

First, what I call “the great pause.” On March 13, I went to the YMCA, swam a mile, did a water aerobics class, and said good-bye. As little as I like to think about it, AdventureMan and I are in the vulnerable category. He has had a cough for over a month, and I know it is time to shelter-in-place. When I get home, I tell AdventureMan the plan. To my great surprise (which tells me he really was sick) he agreed, and he went straight to bed and slept all day, and then all night, and then a good part of the next day.

He was not so good about staying at home, but it is the beginning of gardening season, and his only trips were to Home Depot for mulch, and more mulch, and plant food, etc.

I quilted, at first, something I have longed for the time to do. I tried a new style, more modern and graphic. The first is called Corona Pandemic and the second is Corona vaccine.

 

 

They are just quilt tops for now; I have not yet quilted them. I found, with all my social responsibilities cancelled, my life quieter, it was very zen, very meditative, being able to quilt satisfied my heart, gave me time to think.

My mother called, from Seattle, and mentioned she needed masks for her medical appointments. I dropped the quilting and started mask making, making three immediately for her and mailing them off. The mail was slow. She called the day of her appointment; the masks had not arrived. It was a moot point, as the facility nurse had begged her not to go, there was too much opportunity for contagion, and my mother cancelled her appointment. We had a great conversation.

She never got the masks.

Late that same afternoon, she suddenly got tired, so tired she needed help going to bed. Shortly, she started throwing up. Just after midnight, an ambulance took her to a local hospital where she was given a corona virus test and sent to a hospital in downtown Seattle where they treat corona virus. Her test came back positive.

She was in Seattle. She was given hydroxychloroquin. She was given a second medicine in testing when her immune system raged into overdrive against the virus, destroying her own organs. She got the very best, most innovative treatment available in the world, and still, the virus won. In the end, she refused intubation and a ventilator – her pragmatic doctor said it probably wouldn’t have saved her anyway – and she requested hospice. This was evidently a first, as they had no hospice relationship in place for covid patients, and had to figure it out. They did, and my mother passed away in peace, and in no pain.

The earth fell away from beneath my feet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother. I’m the oldest, and while my relationship with my mother was complicated, she was always my mother. Now, I am so thankful for the seclusion, so thankful not to have to be around people because I can’t count on myself to be me. There are times I just fragment and fall apart, apropos of the smallest thing, a thought like “I need to call Mom and tell her about . . . such and such . . . ” and even before I complete the thought I am in tears, because I can never call her again.

I am not comfortable with my own melodrama. I prefer not to fall apart in public. I thank God for this period of shelter-in-place and social distancing, for the protection it gives me against my own vulnerability, my own fragility. And it gives me space to see these frailties in myself, and learn to live with them. One friend wrote in a condolence note not to worry if this death resounds throughout the rest of my life, that when you lose a mother, you never get over it. While it sounds negative, I found it comforting to know how totally normal it is to feel so lost.

I found comfort and solace in my mask making. I made hundreds of masks. I kept jiggering the patterns until I got one I like, where I could insert a nose-piece without breaking all my sewing machine needles. It gave me time to grieve, and it gave focus to my time.

 

Yesterday, I gave away the last six masks. I have nearly two hundred more in the making, and I am hastening about my current project so that I might have time to finish the newest series. As a quilter, I hate waste. I have fabrics from years back that I love and hate to part with, and the masks are cut 9″ x 15″ so I have lots of wonderful fabrics I can use and know they will live a useful life. One series of masks is from an old cotton souk dress which I wore out; it is soft and well used, but I couldn’t throw it away. It will now live on in ten new masks.

“What new project?” you ask.

My Mother’s death spurred me to look for a house to downsize. It is part of the plan we made when we moved here. We are aging, and healthy, but we have seen how that can change at any time, and I found a wonderful house which we did not buy. Then my son texted us that he and his wife were going to look at a house, and long story short, they contracted to buy that house and wondered if we would like to buy their house.

Would I?  I love that house! AdventureMan and I bought that house once before, to use as a retirement house, but then we sold it to our son and his wife.

They both have very busy lives, and very significant jobs during normal times. This pause has given time for new ways of thinking, and we are trying to get a move done before the world moves on and we lose this window of opportunity. Under the best of circumstances, a move is disruptive. Under normal circumstances, a move would be nearly impossible, in terms of having time. Right now – it is possible.

It is all happening very fast.

We haven’t done a move in ten years – the only other place I have lived for more than ten years is Alaska, where I was born. I am so thankful for this time, for the fact that we are still healthy enough to organize, to pack boxes, to plan actually for two moves, as we are sending furniture to the new house of our son and his wife; they will have more room and we will have significantly less.

AdventureMan says ruefully “When you are living in a big house, there is no incentive to downsize.” He is so right. I wake up in the wee small hours of the morning and obsess  over where things will go. The majority of our boxes are books we are not ready to part with and my quilting supplies. I have some irrelevant but beautiful items I am not ready to part with – our wedding china, which is beautiful, and French, and AdventureMan’s set of German glasses, water and red wine. We have used our china for family dinners, but not so often, and I remember using our crystal maybe six times in the ten years we have lived here. I could give them up. I’m not ready.

Today we were packing up children’s books to give away. I had thought four boxes, and AdventureMan was not ready to give up so many. We ended up giving up two boxes of books, and . . . we are still married. AdventureMan and I do particularly well in two stressful situations, travel and moving. We’re still married.

I keep thinking of my Mom. She might be disappointed I am giving up the big house while I am still young and healthy, but I am not so sure. I remember visiting her in Seattle and often going to look at condos and townhouses when she was my age. She said it was her and Dad, but I always thought it was so my husband and I would buy something in Seattle. Even after we bought a house in Seattle, though, when I would return to Seattle, we would go looking.

Mom always loved a view of the water. In our new house, we have some view of the bayou, where in late afternoon, the sun shimmers off the water. I look out and think “Mom will love this.”

This is my Mom, better days, sitting by the harbor in Edmonds, WA.

 

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Biography, Circle of Life and Death, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | 2 Comments