Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“We Don’t Know What it is, but it is not Breast Cancer”

(This is just an example, not my real image)

I like to stay out of medical facilities. I think it’s better for our health. 🙂  People who go to doctors tend to be sick, and we still have a lot to learn about germs, viruses, flesh-eating diseases, and even intestinal distress, and how they all spread. I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of things you can be exposed to in hospitals and doctors’ offices that you are less likely to be exposed to elsewhere.

On the other hand, I am all for preventive medicine, and by the grace of God and my husband’s military service, and the American tax-payer, I have decent medical coverage. I see my doctor twice a year, and he reminds me if there are other things I need to do. Some, like an annual skin scan, and eye exams are easy. Mammograms, not so much. For me, it is easy to skip a mammogram for a year, or two, or three.

(Segueing into an aside – if men had to put their testicles in between two sheets of cold plastic and then have the sheets tightened by turning a knob until it was really, really uncomfortable, I am willing to bet they would find a more efficacious way to do the job.)

So it has been three years, and I scheduled, and went in for a routine mammogram. The technician was cool and I was in and out quickly; next contact should be a letter saying a radiologist has examined the photos and all is well, that’s routine.

Umm. Next, I get a call saying we need to schedule right away as there were some . . . I can’t remember the word. Sort of like ambivalencies or ambiguities in the films, and we needed to redo those on one of the breasts. And she got me in like day after tomorrow.

So we re-do the shots, and then we do them again. This is taking a long time. Then she comes back and tells me that they have an ultrasound scheduled for me just down the hall to get a better look.

I’m pretty cool. But I’m starting to get a little nervous.

The ultrasound lady is very professional, very thorough. Very thorough, and finally I glance up at the screen to see flares of blues and reds and yellows as she moves the scope around and I don’t show it but I am seriously starting to freak out.

She tells me she needs to talk with the radiologist and leaves the room and it seems like a long long time and then she comes back in and tells me the radiologist needs to talk with me. If I were the kind of woman who cries, I would cry, but I’m not, not in front of other people, so I just look cool.

The radiologist comes in and says a lot which I hear as “blah blah blah;” when I am freaking out, I have trouble understanding words strung together. I can understand each separate word, but I can’t understand them in a sentence, like “what does that mean?”

And then he says “so we know it is NOT breast cancer, but we don’t know what it is. It’s not even something we could biopsy. I’m not calling you back in six months because it isn’t something that has form or substance but be sure to come back in a year this time so we can take another look.” (I might have paraphrased everything after “We know it is not breast cancer . . .” Everything is pretty hazy except that I do NOT have breast cancer.)

Walking out of that clinic (it took hours) was like getting my life back again.

Advertisements

February 12, 2018 Posted by | Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Life is Complicated: Maintaining Balance

It’s been an odd new year. It started with loss and grief, and quiet introspection. Once the season ended, we were caught in the whirl of daily life, amplified by our son’s need for an ACL fix, which has totally immobilized him for a couple weeks and which requires we all pitch in to help keep life going smoothly.

And, I had a major birthday.

The last major birthday I had like this one was when I turned 35 and realized that I hadn’t accomplished my major dreams. I cried all day. People kept stopping by, bringing gifts and cards, and I just kept crying That year, I started graduate school, and never looked back. I was a military wife at an overseas post, with duties to my husband, my community, my church and my job, and I piled on evening classes and all the attendant work of research and studying on top, and I had never been happier. Going back to school was like flying. I loved my studies, and on the days I felt overwhelmed, I would realize that grad school was the only thing I could resign from and I would choose to go forward. My studies were my reward for good behavior in all the other areas of my life.

“What? You didn’t love being a mother?” I hear you asking. We had an oddly shaped room in our quarters, long and narrow. My desk was at the far end, and next to it was my son’s desk. We would do homework together. I adored my son. I would take him to karate lessons, iron his acolyte robes, be there when he got home from school; he enriched my life. But what made my spirit fly was my studies.

Yesterday, things were relatively quiet and I started a project I usually start in January, cleaning out. We haven’t moved in nearly eight years. I tend to be pretty good at cleaning out and passing along or throwing out, but when you are settled, you don’t do so as conscientiously as when you live with a weight allowance. My weight allowance always heavily favored our items collected from foreign postings, and everything else was expendable. Now, the expendable is taking up space, and I want to clear out that which only burdens me and ties me down, and make way for whatever is coming.

En route, I came across a large packet of printed out letters from my earlier lives, one entry in particular, 5 pages describing our arrival in Kuwait. Oh! There are so many things I have already forgotten, so I read it through, and then passed it along to AdventureMan, and listened to him laugh as he hit the funny parts. I owe my Mother a great gratitude for having saved all those letters, for which, having gone through several computers since I wrote them, I have no records. Those were pre-FaceBook times, when we still sent out group e-mails, which then got forward on. Now, we have less time – or we take less time – to write at length about what is going on in our lives.

I made room for my growing collection of religious-oriented books. I have a shelf for them. I have my spiritual disciplines, like doing the Daily Lectionary, but for additional readings, books were scattered here and there. If I am going to get serious about reading them, I have to have them where I know where they are, and I can retrieve them easily. They don’t call it “discipline” for no reason.

When I was a nomad, life’s busier moments were balanced by the enormous quiet of being in a new location. There were the logistical challenges of deliveries, moving out / moving in, looking for the good grocery stores, the cleaners who could do your nicer clothes without ruining them, getting new visas, driver’s licenses, memberships, etc. but in general, life could be very quiet for up to six months. I always found those quiet times, before new friendships, meetings, commitments, etc. very nourishing to my spirit.

I’ve never been so settled. There are times when my spirit rebels against the sameness of it all. There are times when I miss being around people who don’t always use deodorant and who smell sweaty; it takes me back to riding the strassenbahn (street car) in high school in Heidelberg, or to Africa and our adventures there. There are times I catch a whiff of Desert Rose, and feel an urgent upwelling of nostalgia for walking down a Gulf Arab avenue, or through a mall, and how it was the men who smelled so good. There are times I would kill for real flatbread, fresh out of the oven, or for a Tunisian “brik,” done in pure olive oil, or for the simplest French dish, moules frites, mussels in a simple wine sauce with fries.

I do love Pensacola. I have friends here. I’ve always been lucky that way; people take me in and take me behind the scenes. I hear the old stories of how Pensacola used to be, and I hear the new stories, that corruption is never hidden enough to go undiscovered. People in Pensacola, like people everywhere, know things, and I am honored that they share these insights with me. I have found religious community here. I have found meaningful work.

I have a son of whom I am enormously proud. I love and admire his wife. And I have two of the smartest, funniest grand-children on earth, with whom I love spending time.

(Did you know that the use of “whom” is generational?)

It is a sodden, rainy day in Pensacola. AdventureMan is on the couch, here in my office, snoozing as I write. We are on our way to church, then I have a meeting before coming home to do my studies for my class this week. As it says in our Episcopalian Forward Day-byDay: Oh God, Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties: let me not lose faith in other people   . . .

On on.

February 11, 2018 Posted by | Aging, Blogging, Books, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Parenting, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings | Leave a comment

The Post: A Great Movie, and it Really Happened

When you are watching The Post, the story is so interesting that you can forget that this really happened, that newspapers were told they could not publish the Pentagon Papers, and that the Washington Post ultimately defied the “cease and desist” and printed, believing the First Amendment protected their rights.

Meryl Streep is perfect as Katharine Graham, who inherits the Washington Post on the death of her husband, and Tom Hanks makes a great Ben Bradlee. The sets are wonders of 1970’s decor, and oh, Meryl Streep in the frowzy seventies clothes, hilarious.

What isn’t so hilarious, what is actually painful, is watching Meryl, as Katharine, dither and constantly ask the men around her what to do. She was the first woman publisher of a major American newspaper. It was her family newspaper; her father has asked her (now deceased) husband to take it over, and she was delighted. He was the man, and women weren’t expected to take on roles of such importance. As the movie opens, she is getting ready to take The Post public. It is painful watching the bankers and lawyers talk down to this intelligent woman, painful watching rooms full of men making all the decisions, and, as the movie points out, some very bad decisions in the management of the Vietnam War.

It is also a great reminder of who we are as Americans, and the power of a free press. It is a great reminder that the free press is here to put a spotlight on that which is hidden, to help us have transparency in our government, that decisions are not to be made in private huddles, but are to be in the “sunshine” of public awareness, so that we have the ability to question, and to debate, what we want our country to look like.

We found The Post exhilarating. We found it full of hope, even in these dark times.

January 15, 2018 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cultural, Entertainment, Free Speech, Leadership, Political Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Happy New Year 2018!

January 1, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

End of 2017 Wrap Up Photos

Thanksgiving Sunset at Panama City Beach:

The weather was mild and beautiful. It was a sad and happy Thanksgiving; sad for those not with us any longer, happy to be with those who love the departed.

Pelicans at PCB:

Finally, a year when both grandchildren could make it through the entire Nutcracker Ballet in Pensacola, and were utterly rapt. We want them to have this joyous experience!

For the first time, they were checking bags, and almost didn’t let me take my camera in. One person said “no photos” but the other said “you can take photos but no video and no flash” which is fine by me; my little Lumix does great in low light.

 

 

Maybe I’m not a kid anymore, but I have always loved the arrival of the pirate ship!

My favorite dance:

Hmmm  .  . . . well, maybe Nutcracker isn’t just for the grandchildren 🙂

We had the most wonderful Christmas day, family in the morning and afternoon, friends in the evening. We also decided not to go to New Orleans during the week between Christmas and New Years as we often do, and to go in February, after Lent starts on February 14 (what a dismal day for Lent to start! Valentine’s Day for Ash Wednesday!)  I have some more items for our friends at Zito’s to clean and polish for me. The work they do gives us so much pleasure.

Christmas was also a little odd, because I was energetic and got the first step up – lights and greenery going up the staircase, and a thousand or so little silver stars – only to discover that our two new rescue cats, well, new since February, thought this was all for their delight. Ragnar, especially, loved untying the strings that tied up the greenery, and then – horrors! – chewed through the wires on the lights, in several places! I completely re-did the lights, twice, and just as quickly, he chewed through the strings and the lights. I finally figured out that green ribbon worked to keep the greenery up, but we had to forego the lights. We didn’t want a fire hazard, and we didn’t want the cats to be electrocuted. Uhtred pulled a star or two off every day, but they were easily replaced.

We have been hitting our favorite restaurants, and one new one we weren’t crazy about. At our absolute favorite restaurant, a Cajun/beach style restaurant, when we went to pay the bill, they told us as “frequent and highly valued customers,” our meal was on them. Wow. What is so funny is that we had just been talking about our Christmas experiences in Germany, where those restaurants you frequented would give you some small gift, like an Italian restaurant had gift Pannetones, and a German restaurant might gift you with a small schnapps. The Chinese restaurants would give you a small Plum wine. We were missing that, and then, we were stunned when they told us thank you for being such good customers and that it was their treat this time. It totally made my day, another small kindness, but even the smallest kindness packs a punch.

This morning, the last day of 2017, we hit the early service at Christ Church, visited with our friends and neighbors, then had breakfast at C.J.’s, as I needed to make a trip to the commissary and CJ’s is on the way. I like the one-egg breakfast, but today I also ordered a side of one beignet, and the waitress said that the order of 3 was a better deal; you pay $2 for one, and you get 3 for $3. Makes sense to me; I ordered the 3 and AdventureMan helped me out by eating one and we have one to warm up and split tomorrow on New Year’s morning. These beignets were so fresh and so good! We’ve had a little bit of New Orleans without going to New Orleans.

Mardi Gras starts here on January 5 with an all-Krewe party and parade downtown, big party. When all the partying is over, we’ll head back to New Orleans.

December 31, 2017 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Community, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Lent, Local Lore, Lumix, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Pensacola | Leave a comment

You Gotta Love the Mormons

I am not Mormon. Yes, I say good things about the Mormons, and that is because the Mormon people I know are smart, savvy, and hard working. They make time in their life in a structured way, to take care of those around them. They feed the poor, they welcome the stranger, they clothe the naked, they visit the prisoner, they take care of the widow and the orphans – all the things we are told are important to do in order to show the world our love for God and our love for one another. The Mormons have made a science of it, including teaching and learning foreign languages, and sending their young out into the world to spread the word, but also giving them an opportunity to develop a broader perspective, another point of view, living in a foreign country.

AdventureMan and I have a food-truck-turned-settled restaurant we have recently found and love, Taqueria El Asador, on North Davis in a Shell station. You’ll know it by the cars parked all around it as people get to know just how good the food is. My favorite is a burrito Campechano, and AdventureMan loves the Pollo Platter.

It’s outdoors. Mostly we take out. While I was waiting for our order, I saw this among all the ads looking for people to frame, do masonry, or to clean:

We are surrounded by immigrants. Many of the workers are in paint stained clothing, many are in overalls, many in scrubs from the nearby hospital and clinics. The prices are reasonable, and it’s lunchtime. This “ad” is in Spanish, offering free English lessons to those who want to learn English, and how else are you going to get ahead, to fit into your new home, get a better job? The Mormon church is giving exactly the kind of hand-up that will help them find the better life for themselves and their families, and it is offering this tool for free.

Someone more cynical might think they are just trying to convert more Mormons, but anyone who is in the helping business knows that helping doesn’t mean you will get an anticipated response. I would be willing to bet, however, that the kindness doesn’t end there, that the Mormon church has structures in place to help the English learners with clothing, maybe with better jobs, maybe with people who can explain customs, take them to interviews, explain benefits, etc. I would be willing to bet that it isn’t the services offered, but the pure kindness behind those offers that can change hearts. I may not be Mormon, but I can admire the way they do God’s work.

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Charity, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Food, Interconnected, Language, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Work Related Issues | , | 2 Comments

Tough Times in 2017

It’s been a strange year. I fought depression a lot of the year, faced with a political administration that is rolling back everything I believe to be good about my country. I watched our culture degrade, environmental protections roll back, air pollution standards roll back, financial institutions restrictions roll back, oversight disappear, the State Department erode, and truth become astonishingly irrelevant,  civility hard to find. I also found friends, who, like me, welcome immigrants, fight against those who would restrict voting rights only to people a whole lot like them, and who support equal rights and the belief that we are called to be better people, and to do what we can to lift people, rather than to stomp on them.

One great wonderful event happened this year, my grandchildren were baptized. It was a private event, with friends and well-wishers, and it was joyful, and very funny. If I want a big smile, I think back on that precious day.

At that same time, two people we know were diagnosed with cancer, diagnosed in the very prime of their lives. One was the father of our dear daughter-in-law. He and his wife welcomed our son, and then us, into his sweet family, a family full of women as wild and wacky as I am. We laugh, my daughter-in-law and I, about how our relationship is “unnatural.” We are supposed to be hostiles, but in truth, we genuinely love one another and we enjoy one another’s company. I admire her, as a wife, a mother and an environmentalist. We enjoy her parents, and we spent two weeks in Zambia traveling with her father and his wife. We had a great time with them.

Her father was a poster boy for chemotherapy. He smiled and laughed his way through it, cheering up those around him who were trying to cheer him on. If he ever had moments of self-pity, we never saw it. He chose to spend his time loving others, and continuing to make this world a better place.

In November, he caught a cold, and then pneumonia. The family gathered, and he rallied for a while, and then sank slowly, unable to get enough oxygen into his lungs. Before Thanksgiving, he was gone.

Yes, I am faithful, and I also have a hard time accepting that it was this man’s time to go. I am guessing that part of it is being unable to accept my own powerless to stop this horrible thing from happening, this good man, cut down in his prime. He was just making plans to retire, to travel. He and his wife were excited. I couldn’t help it, his death made me angry, it was such a waste. Yes, you can be faithful and be really mad at God.

This man loved his grandchildren.

 

He loved fishing, and spent time teaching his grandchildren, nieces and nephews to love fishing, too. Here he is on the Zambezi, seeing what he might catch.

Every life he touched, he left better for it. He was a fine man, and I grieve for my sweet daughter-in-law, for this terrible, painful loss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is hoping for a better year to come.

December 29, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Aging, Civility, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | Leave a comment

The Rules of Magic: Alice Hoffman

No, I haven’t gone silent. I’ve been busy, contacting my worthless representatives in the House and Senate, telling them to stop the thug-in-chief, to stop the carpetbaggers stripping our country of it’s resources and decency.

In response, they supported a tax cut that favors the very rich, and strips the neediest of health care that they might be able to afford. The also broke my heart by inserting a little amendment that allows for oil drilling in the Arctic, in my birth state of Alaska.

I used to write about corruption in Kuwait and in Qatar. I never dreamed I would be faced with such horrifying, outrageous behaviors in my own country. Very humbling. Very miserable.

So, when my heart is broken, I turn to books, and oh, have I found a delightful book. Alice Hoffman’s book The Rules of Magic. I’ve just gotten into it, but I wanted to tell you about a paragraph that hooks me and makes me want to stay up all night to read the whole book 🙂  This is my great escape.

 

Everyone had to leave home eventually, didn’t they? They had to set out on their own and find out who they were and what their futures might bring. But for now all Vincent wanted was a bus ticket, and when he looked at his sisters he could tell they agreed. No going back, no retreat, no settling for the ordinary lives they had been made to live every day.

Hoffman, Alice. The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series Book 1) (p. 19). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Update: I finished this book, and loved it. It was pure escape, and thoroughly engaging and relatable, although that may sound contradictory. 😉

December 2, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Counter-terrorism, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

Never a Dull Moment: Hurricane Nate

 

We breathed a sigh of relief when the crew came and took down our hurricane protection on the upper story. Our house has been very dim on the upper level with the ballistic covering over the windows. That was ummm . . . . Monday? Tuesday?

Wednesday, we started hearing little rumblings about a fast-developing storm called Nate. By Friday, many activities for this weekend have been cancelled, even some church services on Sunday. Our guidance was “even if you are signed up to read or to sing in the choir, if it is a hurricane, DON’T COME.” You have to spell things like this out for Episcopalians, or they will kill themselves trying to keep a promise, to fulfill a duty.

Everyone has been sort of sure that the storm will head toward New Orleans, as it usually does. We don’t wish New Orleans any harm, we all love New Orleans and it is a favorite overnight or weekend getaway. They, in turn, love Pensacola Beach, and many spend a week or a month here ever summer. So they are our neighbors and we wish them well. But would we voluntarily take a hurricane for them . . . ? I’m not so sure.

I was up this morning at six, checking the most recent weather channel forecasts, and it doesn’t look good. Even if we get peripheral winds, they could be up to 100 mph. Just to be doing something to calm myself, I hit good old Home Depot for a tarp or two. I was home before eight, and AdventueMan was up sorting through the hurricane protection bags, the ones we just put away. The ones we just put away THIS WEEK.

As we are trying to prioritize, our contractor and his crew that installed the hurricane protection called and said he was in the neighborhood, did we want their help getting the protection back up. What a relief.

If we had done it yesterday, when the humidity was low and the temperatures were lower, it might have been a piece of cake, but this morning, even with the garage door open, we were sweating buckets just sorting out the upstairs and downstairs covers.

The crew is here now. I had to scurry to take a shower; did not want to give someone putting up window protection a bad shock. I have the cat cages ready to go, and extra food. I have a couple loads of laundry ready to be washed and dried, and I have packed the emergency bag in case we need to leave in a hurry.  Extra money, important papers, a couple days worth of clothing. Shoes. Underwear. I’ll pack my computer with me, and I hope I remember my charger. Having had to do things now and then in a big hurry, I know that sometimes your mind goes on hold and your forget the most essential thing. AdventureMan filled his gas tank, and will put up the garage supports when we get home from the movie this afternoon (the hurricane is not expected to hit until early tomorrow morning).

And, honestly, when you live with hurricanes, their terrifying power (as the Psalm says “terrify them with your hurricane”) you learn that the most important things of all are not things, but the people you hold most dear. Everything else can be replaced.

October 7, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Survival, Weather | | 3 Comments

Random Trains

I’m on my way home from the Y, and the gates go down and a train goes by. Car after car go by, and each segment has an armored personnel carrier, a sturdy military truck, or a desert jeep.

 

The train keeps coming, so I take another shot. When I am looking at photos, the second one is odd; I can’t figure out how this little picture of a man got into the far left of the photo. Then I look closely; it is a billboard ad for a local personal injury attorney in Pensacola.

October 5, 2017 Posted by | Local Lore, Pensacola | 1 Comment