Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Avian Thrills

I wish I had photos to show you, but there are moments where if you run for the camera, you miss the moment. I’ve had three moments in the last week that thrilled my heart.

A week ago, after a big storm, as I pushed open the curtains I saw hundreds of pelicans, swooping and circling just in front of the house across the street on the Bayou. Normally, pelicans fly all sort of relaxed and then, suddenly, plunge into the water for a fish, but this time, they seemed agitated, and there were a lot of them. I watched, and after a while I saw there was a big flock of ducks on the water, and the pelicans (I am speculating here) did not want the ducks there. So they were swooping the ducks and swooping and swooping, and eventually, the ducks got rattled and flew away.

Four days ago, as I stepped out the door, a huge bird flew over my head to a nearby tree, carrying a fish. I signaled to AdventureMan to come out and see; he thought it was an eagle, and after watching him tear at the fish (never dropping it, skillfully done) I agreed. He didn’t seem to mind us observing. That was very cool.

This morning, as I stepped out to feed our outdoor cat, Emile, I heard a very loud “Who-who-who-who-WHOOOOOOOH!” It was so loud I jumped a little when it started, and then realizing it was a big owl in our little backyard forest, I just stopped and enjoyed the rest of it. I love the sound of owls, and I grinned, thinking of a little owl we used to hear in Botswana, I can’t remember the name (Pell’s Fishing Owl? Pearl Spotted Owl?) but we secretly called it the orgasm owl because it’s call was very long, starting with like who-who-who-who-whow-Whow WHow WHOw WHOW WHOW! WHOW!! WHOW!!!!! And after that huge crescendo, it would go quiet for a while . . . and then start up again. It never failed to make me grin.

February 22, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Birds, Botswana, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Thousands of Ducks in Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge

It’s an easy drive from Apalachicola, and we also have an agenda; we remember a particularly good barbecue restaurant not far from Saint Marks.

The drive is beautiful. It is still early, but getting toward mid-morning, so it is warming up. We are dressed for the cold; it is also windy so the chill just goes right through your clothes. You have to have a lot of clothes, in layers, or you are too cold to walk.

We stop on the way so I can take a photo.

As I step out of the car, and start walking on the grassy roadside toward the bulkhead, I suddenly step into a deep hole. The grass is just a cover, and the ground underneath is eroding. I managed to stay upright, but it was awkward.

That’s where I stepped.

Saint Marks had a couple heron, an egret here and there, a couple pelican, the St. Mark’s lighthouse, and a million ducks. If you have never read Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Book Series, this is the area and lighthouse I picture when we first enter the alternate world in Annihilation.

We walked a couple miles around the various ponds, and it is hard to envision just how many ducks there are in this protected area.

We found gardens of these empty oyster shells; they were beautiful.

We are happy with our walk, but we are cold, and we are getting hungry! On the way into the park, we passed the BBQ restaurant and it is open. Off we go.

February 4, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Exercise, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Travel | | 3 Comments

En Route to Apalachicola

We’ve been so good. We haven’t traveled. We haven’t gathered with our friends, with our book clubs, with our church, well, not very much. We stay masked, most of the time, even with our grandchildren. We’ve had zero colds and zero flu this year, while trying to avoid COVID.

And we needed a break.

How can we do it safely, we asked ourselves. If you are reading this blog, which is a resource for travelers, I am imagining you ask the same questions. How do responsible people travel in this time of COVID?

First, I have to be frank. We are not entirely responsible. I swim at the Y three days a week. If I walk in and there are too many people, especially young people, in there, breathing, I turn around and walk out. I’ve only had to do it twice. Most days I feel safe, and another truth is, I really need to swim for my physical and mental health.

We are also risk takers, always have been, but we try to calculate our risks. So, you’ve been warned, we are not entirely safe all the time. We calculate our risks. We balance our risks.

We really needed a getaway, and we have recently sold a house so we needed a getaway and a celebration.

We usually go to Apalachicola once a year, but we haven’t been for three years now. Apalachicola has a very low rate of transmission, on the COVID map, and the place we stay is more like a residence, and very clean. I call our visits pilgrimages, because we “worship” at the nature parks of St. Marks, St. George Island, and St. Vincent. (I am making a little joke, here.)

We love Panama City beach, and I have a yen for a schnitzle, but when we get to the German restaurant, it has become a seafood restaurant. We decide we want grilled oysters, and we know another really good restaurant, but when we get there it is closed for renovations.

So we stop here:

My husband went in to ask if we can eat there if we are not bikers, and if they have grilled oysters. The very kind waiter said we could eat there, but he would recommend our going to another nearby place if we want oysters.

Dat Cajun Place is near the little Mom-and-Pop hotel we love, the Sunset Inn, but we’ve never eaten there. Today is the day. Another first for us, we are eating in a restaurant . . .

It’a big inside, so although no one is wearing a mask – NO one – we find an isolated table.

Our waiter did wear a mask. He was very kind, very gracious.

We decided to share a dozen grilled oysters. I adore grilled oysters, and they are so rich that six is always mre than enough for me. AdventureMan could eat more, but he defers to me for his own good health. I barely remembered to take the photo before they were all gone.

I had two sides; the Cajun Potato Salad and the greens. O M G those greens. Maybe it was really grilled bacon with greens . . . they were spicy and a little vinegar-y and full of bacon and with the oysters and potato salad, my life was complete.

We thought we had asked for jalepenos as a side for the oysters, but we got a big platter of deep fried jalepenos. I would NEVER order deep friend jalepenos, and they were fabulous, served with remoulade, oh heaven.

AdventureMan found his own bliss with a gorgeous Oyster Poor Boy, one of the best ever, he claims.

This was a great stop.

February 4, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

“Do You Want to Reserve for Friday night?”

I was so excited. We are headed out, our first trip since February when we took our grandchildren back to New Orleans, as we so often did until March and the advent of COVID. We’ve sold our big house, are comfortably settled in our smaller house, and I am SO ready to resume a more normal life.

I had just finished telling AdventureMan about a restaurant in a hotel we have visited several times, but we’ve never stayed in nor eaten in. The menu looks fabulous! (The Franklin in the Gibson Inn, Apalachicola). He looked at me over his reader glasses, lovingly – and sadly.

“”So do you think everyone will be masked and socially distanced?” he asked me.

“Oh,” I responded. Deflated. Sometimes, for a short while, I can totally forget the new reality of masks and social distancing, and not eating in restaurants.

We decided that as we will be staying in a lovely place with condo conveniences, we can order out. It won’t be the same, but the food will be good, we can store our leftovers in a refrigerator, and we can be safe.

Sigh.

I’m still excited. Apalachicola is beautiful, and the hotel where we stay (The Water Street Hotel) is right on the estuary. There are screened balconies where, even in this chilly weather, we can sit out and watch the heron, and fishing birds, and watch the boats stream by. We can head out to St. Marks, famous for the large flights of migratory birds at this time of the year.

It will be cold. It will also be beautiful, and it will be relatively deserted, safe from those globs of corona virus floating around where human beings breathe. We can walk to our hearts content. I can take pictures.

We like birds. We are enthralled with their beauty. It gives me a happy jolt every time I see, from my little house, a pelican, or a stork, or an eagle, or a red shouldered hawk. No, we are not birders. We like birders, but cannot begin to generate their endless enthusiasm and capability for detailed observation. We just sit back and enjoy the moment.

Apalachicola is a very old Florida town, once famous for it’s timber, and once famous for it’s oysters. The recent hurricane activity has wiped out the tasty Apalachicola oysters, at least for the next few years, and has greatly wiped out the economy of Apalachicola. We look forward to lifting that economy, as best we can, with our visit, and we encourage you to do the same.

January 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | | Leave a comment

Be Still My Heart

The Dow Jones Industrial average just went over 30,000 for the first time, ever, skyrocketing on the prospect of a peaceful transition, some predictability taking place of our four years of chaos, and some civility.

I am watching Joe Biden intruduce his new cabinet nomineees. Everyone is masked, and between each speaker an aide is wiping down the surfaces on th podium.

The words they speak thrill my heart:

Service

Diplomacy

Foreign Policy/ National Security / Allies

Respect

Opportunity

Telling Truth to Power

Unite America; Belief in America’s Ideals – Democracy, Rule of Law

Commitment

Reflecting the best of our nation

Truth, Facts, Science

There are women at the table. There are brown people at the table. There are humble, talented white men at the table. My heart sings. They are warriors, looking realistically at the challenges ahead and ready to do whatever they need to do to rebuild the American dream for ALL citizens.

These are people who work quietly, persistently and modestly in service to their country, and are willing to put in the hard work to achieve hard-gained successes.

I’m excited. I dream of a better tomorrow.

November 24, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Cultural, Financial Issues, History, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | , , | 1 Comment

Hurricane Coming

This morning, as I was doing my morning readings, I checked the weather and saw this:

Very calm, very direct. Don’t get crazy, but there is a hurricane blowing in and you might want to take precautions. I really do appreciate the warning.

I zipped over to the YMCA to get my laps in. I have achieved my lifetime goal; I did 51 laps last Monday, and today I was only able to do 42. More swimmers in the pool, more turbulence, slower laps. I really try not to force myself to meet any goals; that I am there, that I am exercising, that needs to be enough. If I keep pushing myself, it takes the joy out of the fact that I actually swim these laps three days a week, and I am already achieving more that I ever dreamed I would achieve at this point in my life.

On my way home, I could see palm trees along the Bayou, already two or three feet under water. In front of the storm, the water is already rising dramatically.

I called to AdventureMan as I entered the house, “Come take a walk with me down the Bayou; I want to take some photos.” (He loves walking with me.) We were halfway down the drive when I said “Oh! I need to go back! I have to get my FitBit!”

He just laughed his head off. “So no point in doing a walk if you don’t get credit for it?” he teases me.

“No! You’re exactly right!” I respond. It isn’t an insult if it is true, right?

 

 

I had thought we would walk further, but at this point, it started raining really hard and I was using my real camera, not my iPhone, so I needed to quit to protect the camera. You can see the water over the dock at this house, and a little lagoon where no lagoon was before.

I did a poll at the Y. No one seemed very concerned. “Will you be covering your windows?” I would ask and they would all say “No, we’re just going to get a lot of rain.” Me, I worry, because it seems to me a hurricane  can wobble, but I have only lived here ten years, and there is a lot I don’t know. The rise in the Bayou concerns me. AdventureMan is not concerned, but did mention that we need to have a practice with our shutters so we know what to do when a real need arises.

Poor Louisiana! Poor California! Poor United States of America! What a year of troubles this is.

September 14, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Birds, Cultural, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Lumix, Pensacola, Safety, Survival, Weather, YMCA | Leave a comment

Only Julia Childs Could Lead Me Into Temptation

I try so hard to be good, and for the most part, I keep myself reigned in. Every now and then, however, I stumble and fall, and this time I did it in a big way.

I got a notice that a local shop/cooking School, Bodacious Shops, was doing a special Julia Childs dinner, a seven course dinner using genuine Julia Childs recipes.

“AdventureMan!” I shouted from my office to his, “AdventureMan, there is a Julia Childs Dinner at Bodacious Shops! They are using her recipes!”

“Book it!” shouts AdventureMan back from his office.

We miss France. We miss French food. We miss travel. We just moved, we have a house on the market, utility bills for two houses and projects for the newest house. We are masking and socially distancing to the point that we never eat in a restaurant, except two weeks ago when we ate outdoors at Flounders. Every item points away from an event like this, and we jumped in with both feet and never looked back.

When the day came, we were busy with normal family projects and a grandchild. When the grandchild got picked up, a storm was rolling in. I got in my nightgown, and settled in with a great book I am reading. At 5:47, AdventureMan called from his office “Don’t we have a dinner tonight?” and oh yes, and it started at 6:00.  LOL, we scrambled. We got there by 6:10, last ones to arrive but ten minutes could happen to anyone.

We were very correct, very socially distanced, and masked, except it was a dinner, so masks came off.

The dinner was delightful. It could have been all formal, but it wasn’t, and it was a lot of fun. Chef Nick is very funny as well as skilled and knowledgeable, and as it is more a presentation than a hands-on course, we didn’t get too messy.

We started with salmon mousse. It was divine. It was as good as anything I’ve had in France.

The next course was Vichysoisse. It was really good. I make Vichysoisse myself, and I am happy to say, this was very similar, tasty!

The next course is mussels, which we love. We eat mussels in the Pacific Northwest, and we eat mussels in France. We ate a memorable bowl of mussels in Dubrovnik. AdventureMan makes a mean dish of mussels steamed in white wine, seafood broth and garlic, so Chef Nick was up against a tough standard. The mussels were good, and I can’t eat mussels without using my fingers, so it was delicious – and messy.

We had a salad, and we had a sorbet, and then a little break before the main course, Boeuf Bourguignon.

I’m used to a little stewier beef burgundy, but I liked this one just fine. It was rich and textured, and had a lot of flavor. I was delighted that they kept the portions French-like, smaller. When food is well prepared and full of flavor, you don’t need to eat so much.

A little French cheese, a Compte and something very soft, a lot like Brie but it wasn’t.

Ummm, there was actually more of the Compte (top one) but I forgot and ate a couple pieces before I remembered to take a picture. Forgive me!

And the evening ended with a lovely very chocolatey chocolate mousse, served in a little pastry puff.

 

Balanced against the risk of eating out in a town where the positive rate for COVID is still hovering between 13% and 14%, we agreed that this was a relatively safe bet. This was not a real downtown restaurant, but a specialty shop were they do cooking classes and special events. The number of attendees was limited by the space, the spacing, and, frankly, by the price.

We felt safe. It was a group of people who love good food, who weren’t drinking too much or talking loudly. People respected the 6 foot rule and wore masks when not eating.

AdventureMan said it was a good risk and a good investment in another way, in that we didn’t have to take a plane or a boat to France.

So yes, it was a risk. And yes, some risks are worth taking.

August 15, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Chocolate, Civility, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, France, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant | , , | Leave a comment

Pensacola Beach: COVID? What COVID?

We are in the middle of some stormy weather, which in Pensacola means gloriously powerful thunder and lightning storms, here one minute and gone the next, or maybe lingering for hours, followed by hot sunshine Yesterday, with the side streams of Tropical Storm Hanna blowing by, we had an intensely thundery and stormy day, some periods of torrential rains, followed by sunlight, followed by heavy rains, followed by blue skies – and light sprinkles.

We stayed inside almost all day, then in late afternoon where suddenly everything lightened, we headed for our son’s home, and their lovely large back-yard and nice large warm pool. What luxury! An old friend was visiting, and we social-distanced in the pool.

Today, I told AdventureMan I wanted to go to Flounder’s for lunch. AdventureMan looked at me and asked “Do you think we could risk eating there? Outside?”

We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 12th. We’ve ordered out, even from Flounders, and taken it home to eat.

But Flounders, one of our favorite places to eat (part of the McGuire’s Steakhouse chain) has lots and lots of room, lots of seating, indoors and out. Of all the eating-in-a-restaurant risks, this one seemed pretty low. After a big rain, everything seems to sparkle, the air seems clearer – and we need a vacation. I said “yes.”

We drove to the beach, found a parking place immediately – always a good sign – and were seated in the high-ceilinged, semi-covered area, where large booths for six and eight people are separated by these signs:

Although there were two groups of eight seated near us (really once very large group) unmasked, there was plenty of distance. It was a real mix – the parking lot full of licenses from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky – even one from Oregon (!), maybe hiding out down here from the Feds, as so many do. Have you ever noticed how on those old Crime shows, so many of the criminals were ultimately found in Florida? Or California? Actually, my Mother is from Oregon, and I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for those Oregonians showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all the white women showing up in yellow T-shirts (Moms for Black Lives Matter) and the grandpas with their leaf blowers – they really know how to protest with good will and a sense of humor.

OOps. I digress.

People were social distanced. We had plenty of space.

They are using a new, condensed menu, but we knew what we wanted and the waitress told us we could order even if it didn’t show on the menu.

Seafood Chowder. Flounders is famous for it, and it is truly a magnificent taste-treat.

As usual, I forgot to take the photo until I was half done. Apologies!

My husband loves their grilled grouper sandwiches, and he always shares a fry or three or four with me because they are so delicious:

 

I had my usual – Baja Tacos. Here is the truth – they also have a healthier fish taco, grilled, served with a mango salsa but I really love the deep fried Baja Tacos. I usually can’t eat more than one, so I bring them home and have a fish taco salad for another meal.

We had great service.

Some servers were masked. Some were not. It appears they have their choice. Some customers wore masks, some carried masks, some had no masks. Where we sat, there was a lot of fresh air, breezy air, and a lot of space, so we did not worry too much. No more condiments on the tables. Everything looked very clean.

Sometimes you take a risk. This risk was a much needed mini-vacation at a time when we are not comfortable with airplanes or even hotels.

The beach scene is a different story. We could see crowds of people, no masks, no social distancing, around the jet-ski rental places. In spite of the huge red-lettered signs saying DANGEROUS SURF. DO NOT GO IN GULF it looked to me like a hundred or more people swimming around in Casino Beach. We saw lots of large groups. Lots of cars from other places. I can imagine the servers have concerns, especially if they have families, or need to stay well to keep a roof over their heads. The visitors seem oblivious to the health boundaries necessary to prevent transmission. When one person in ten in Escambia County is testing positive, they are exposing themselves and taking the virus back home with them to wherever they came from.

So for us, having a meal out in a restaurant was a unique event. I can’t imagine the conditions are such that we can be comfortable making it a habit. It was a fling. It was nice while it lasted. I hope there are no repercussions.

July 25, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bread Upon the Waters

Today’s reading from the Old Testament in The Lectionary:

Ecclesiastes 11:1-8

11Send out your bread upon the waters,
   for after many days you will get it back.
2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
   for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
3 When clouds are full,
   they empty rain on the earth;
whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
   in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever observes the wind will not sow;
   and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.

Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

 

By accident, my husband and I now own three houses. We are preparing to move into the  most recent, which was also once our third house. We had finished paying off another house and we had decided to invest in a winter home in Pensacola, but that house became our son’s house when they were expecting their first child and now we are buying it back from them as they move their expanded family into a more spacious house. Perfect timing, as we urgently need to downsize.

I don’t always like the old cynic who penned the verses in Ecclesiastes, but I recognize the wisdom, and I always learn something.

Today, he is talking about investment, the importance of putting aside some of what you accumulate, like a little squirrel, to hide away for the future. He is also talking about diversification, and what wisdom!

“for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.”

As we walk through this life, we don’t even know from day to day, not from minute to minute, what is about to happen. Setting aside a little extra to cover emergencies, slowly putting the accumulation in different areas protects the loss of the whole.

We intend to sell the big house we are sitting in, once we get moved out. It has served us well for ten years, and we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it’s generous spaces. But time happens to all of us, and the aging process seems mostly to be a one way street. We know we can’t see around the corner to what tomorrow may bring, but we have decided to invest in the possibility of “aging in place” in a house with no stairs, a house that can accommodate live-in assistance if necessary, and a house with a much smaller yard for Adventureman to beautify.

Early in our marriage, we started each road trip with a song:

Side by Side
Oh! We ain`t got a barrel of money
Maybe we`re ragged and funny
But we`ll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side
I don`t know what`s a-comin` tomorrow
Maybe it`s trouble and sorrow
But we`ll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side
through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we`re together
It really doesn`t matter at all
When they`ve all had their quarrels and parted
We`ll be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side
(Repeat last two verses)
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Daniele Tignino / Emiliano Patrik Legato
Side by Side lyrics © Shapiro Bernstein & Co. Inc.
We taught this song to our son (I think he rolled his eyes) when he was young, and now we have taught it to our grandchildren, so that as we hit the road, they say “We have to sing the song!” It’s a glorious legacy, and another way of sending out our bread upon the waters.

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Music, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips | Leave a comment

Amazing Women Visiting Pensacola

When I first came to Pensacola, a woman at our church who is very welcoming and kind to newcomers told me she “wanted to find just the right place for me to plug in.” A couple of her suggestions were not exactly what I wanted, but then she introduced me to Jena Melancon, the founder and director of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council, and I found my niche.

Jena is an amazing woman. She has created this organization. She has a data base of resources that allow her to tailor visits for foreign delegates so that they can meet the needs of their missions – Election Transparency, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Protection, Leading an NGO, Military and Civilian Community Cooperation, Domestic Violence, Creating Fair Policies, Programs for Enriching Disadvantaged Children – you name it, Jena can create a program that will enrich their understanding from an American perspective.

At the same time, Pensacolians who come into contact with the delegates sent by the Department of State find that their lives are also enriched. Many times they, too, learn something new and unexpected. Both groups benefit.

Jena also has a group in GCCDC that studies Great Decisions, and creates events throughout the year for membership participation. Members of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council can volunteer in Jena’s office, can host dinners for delegates and have some one-on-one time learning about customs in another part of the world, can sponsor a Pensacola child in an international exchange, can host teenagers here on an international exchange, or attend the famous Mint Julep party in Spring. Many in the GCCDC are also resources; the exchange of ideas bringing inspiration to both sides.

This week, I was honored to be able to work with a group of Women in Leadership, women from Chad, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Sudan. Each and every one of the women was a hero in her own right, making life better in their communities by stepping into leadership roles. Rehab, above, from the Sudan, works to empower women and to make the laws show greater equality in the treatment of men and women.

 

CPT Aseel is a police chief in Iraq.

Maki, from Chad, works to prohibit child marriages and female genital mutilation.

Mariam, from Saudi Arabia, is a high level journalist in the Saudi media industry, accepting honorary citizenship from the City of Pensacola city council chair Sherri Myers.

Wasfiya is a minister of parliament in Iraq.

Ola is the delegate from Jordan.

I was honored to spend three days of my life with these women, and with Jena, and with other inspirational women of Pensacola at the Women in Leadership conference at UWF.

Here is most of the group with Judy Bense, President Emeritus of UWF, at the closing of the Women in Leadership conference, 2020. Life can be amazing when so many women of talent and confidence gather together to inspire one another.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments