Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Seek the Welfare of the City

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

We are about to embark on a trip, and as I read the Lectionary readings this morning, I found a verse I found comforting in my life as a nomad, the verse above.

We kept ending up in the Middle East. I wasn’t unhappy about it, but I did wonder why. I trust God has a plan for each one of us; even late in life, however, mine appeared fuzzy, if not opaque. What was the purpose?

The verse above comforted me; I didn’t need to know my purpose, I just needed to live my life, and to pray for the people in the places we were posted. When you pray for people, you find yourself mixed in their lives, they become more real, more understandable. The exiles found themselves in an alien environment, and the Lord tells them to marry, build houses, plant gardens, live normal lives AND to seek the welfare of the alien country and the alien people among which they find themselves. It resonates in my soul.

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Biography, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual | Leave a comment

The Covid Conversation

It’s been an interesting week. Last week, there was no swimming. It was a welcome break in terms of sleep; no alarm, being lazy (LOL, being lazy is sleeping until 0600 instead of 0530) taking a walk now and then when I needed movement . . .

It was also handy because at my annual skin scan, my adorable dermatologist wrinkled her brow as she looked at me through her magic magnifier and said “Oh! we need to take care of THAT!” and THAT was prominently on my cheek.

(A brief aside because I cannot resist – when I was shown to the exam room, the tech asked if I wanted a gown and I said yes, and then, not being a smart-mouth but because I wanted to understand, I asked “What is the alternative? Like I stand here naked? Do people do that?” Sometimes I really am a stranger in my own land, and maybe I’ve missed some growing lack of self-consciousness? The tech laughed and said “No, there are people who will NOT take their clothes off!” I tried to comprehend that and totally failed. “So what’s the point of a skin scan?” I asked, “How can they be examined?” The tech said “We pull at their clothes a little and look underneath, but yeh, it’s not complete.” Totally boggled my mind.)

I have never been so happy about masking in my life. Having a big crispy spot about the size of a quarter on my cheek makes me feel like a teen-ager again, like every eye will be fixed on my boo-boo.

With my mask covering my big blotch, I got my second COVID vaccination. Yes, I might be suggestible, and then again, I am not a big baby, but my arm was sore almost immediately. By evening, I had chills so bad I was taking hot baths to feel warm enough. I had a headache just between my two eyes, and I was SO tired. The next day, I felt the same. Finally, the second night, I took an Aleve and slept wonderfully. The next morning, I was fine.

So I really needed the week off from swimming. One funny thing about the COVID vaccination, and again, who knows, it may be in my mind, but all of a sudden I have a sharp sense of smell again. It comes from my father’s side of the family, some of us have it and some of us don’t, but I think it had faded, and right now, it is noticeably back again, and oh, what joy it brings me.

So all the health drama is over now, I am back at swimming, and we continue to have work done to make our house safer and more energy efficient. A roof inspector, seeing our stack of photo albums (labeled Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, etc.) asked us if we had ever been to Alaska, and that started a great conversation, one we are hearing over and over as more people get vaccinated.

“We’ve decided we don’t want to wait any longer. We don’t know how many good years we have left. We are going to travel now, while we can,” he said.

He and his wife want to see Alaska. They want to see France. We had a great conversation, and I sent him some information by e-mail.

COVID has had its gifts, and awareness is one of them. Couple after couple have told us the same thing, this feeling of urgency to do it now, while we can.

We have four trips booked. One, a passage from Japan through Kamchatka and the Aleutians and the Alaskan Gulf, we’ve had booked for over a year. Another is a trip which COVID cancelled, but we want to do it and have scheduled it again. Another is coming up soon, a trip with our family to New Orleans, where we will continue to socially distance in a VRBO near Magazine, near the Audubon Zoo, near the Saint Charles trolley and several of our favorite restaurants with our family, and one back out to Yellowstone and Glacier, staying in cabins, mostly with kitchens. We’re good with take-out; in fact we’ve grown to really like it.

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite

It’s not a hardship for us. We are introverts. We travel quietly. We stop and observe. I take photos. At night, I write reviews and research possibilities for the next day’s route. Part of the fun I have in life is finding really fun places to stay, some of which, like El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, or Ahwahnee in Yosemite, (LOL, “Yo! Semite!”) have to book far in advance, like sometimes a year out or more. Right now, several of the most popular cruises are already booked in 2021 and 2022 by people a lot like us, yearning to be back out on the road.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

People in Florida are concerned about another wave of COVID following Spring Break. I am thinking here we are, all eager to get back on the road, us restless Boomers, and we’ve forgotten the pounding compelling imperatives of youth – meeting, mating, maybe even committing. But that’s another conversation . . .

March 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Pensacola: Florida Man

Today, as we were en route to pick up lunch, we were stopped at a stop light. We had been stopped there for about 45 seconds, the light was very red.

Suddenly, on our left, an SUV came rushing up and without even slowing down, much less stopping, he blasted through that very red light.

I’ve given up cursing for Lent. In the surprise and the shock of the adrenalin jolt, out popped “WTF??”

There is a character in Florida so common that he has his own meme: Florida Man. Florida Man Runs Naked Down the Interstate. Florida Man Kills Stranger With a Hammer While High on Meth. Florida Man Hit Man on Highway and Calls it In as a Deer. Oops, not that one, wrong state. But you get the picture. Generally, Florida Man thinks the rules don’t apply to him.

I had a run-in with Florida Man once, when we lived in the Tampa/St. Pete area, except Florida Man was a woman who was really PO’d with me when our two lines of cars were zippering to get on the interstate and when I zippered, even though she was honking at me in her big truck, she got infuriated that I didn’t defer, and she chased me up the highway, trying to cut me off, coming really close to hitting me. I left the highway rather than take a chance with a lunatic who was also likely carrying a gun.

Even for Florida Man, running a very very red red light at high speed without even slowing down is exceptional. And then, maybe 10 seconds later, a large Pensacola police SUV with lights and siren rolling, went zooming through the same red light, followed by another PPD vehicle.

This was worth a good ten minutes of discussion. We don’t think the police caught him (or her) as the car was going SO fast, and changing into the left lane, I am guessing the driver, just out of sight, turned left and evaded a confrontation.

AdventureMan observed that evading the police these days is a very temporary thing; clearly they were chasing this car even before he zoomed through the red light. They know the car, they’ve probably run the license, at the very least they have him on film. Two cars were chasing him; running the red light was probably just icing on the cake. So we are running the probabilities; I am saying if I know I am guilty of something, probably something serious, and the police are about to arrest me, running a red light might be a percentage play if it keeps me free another hour or day or month or two. Maybe it’s worth the risk to run that light, and likely this is not a person who is giving a lot of thought to the welfare of others.

How fragile life is. On a quiet, calm Sunday, just making a quick trip to pick up some take-out, anything can happen.

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Crime, Cultural, Florida, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Random Musings, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

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