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 | 1 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

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

Sexually Transmitted Disease Rate Rising

A local school district is using “abstinence only” as it’s sex-ed class guidance. Has abstinence, among any population, ever worked? Give our hormone-ridden teens some information, please! Tell them that if they are going to have sex, how to use a condom, and explain a wide variety of contraceptives which will prevent an unwanted pregnancy. How many teens do you know who are ready to become parents? Teens are greatly at the mercy of their bodies, teach them to use their bodies responsibly.

It’s not just teen-agers in the US.

One recent fact I read recently is not included in this article; one of the greatest increases in STD’s in our population is among adults 55 and older, and people in retirement homes and nursing homes. We need to get these grown-ups some sex-ed, too!

Sex diseases in US surge to record high

AFP
"All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartach," said Gail Bolan, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention, of STDs that are passed from mother to child
“All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartach,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, of STDs that are passed from mother to child (AFP Photo/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
More

Washington (AFP) – Sexually transmitted diseases surged to a record high in the United States last year, with more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis nationwide, officials said Tuesday.

This was “the highest number ever,” said the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released today by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most of the new cases — 1.6 million in 2016 — involved chlamydia, a bacterial infection that affects both men and women.

Gonorrhea also increased among men and women last year, but the steepest rise was among men (22 percent), said the report.

Nationwide, gonorrhea cases reached 470,000, with a large share of new gonorrhea cases among men who have sex with men.

These trends are “particularly alarming” because of the growing threat of gonorrhea becoming resistant to the last recommended treatment, according to the CDC report.

Syphilis cases numbered 28,000, a rate that increased nearly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Most cases of syphilis occur among men — mainly gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

But women too saw a 36 percent increase in rates of syphilis.

There were more than 600 cases of syphilis among newborns — known as congenital syphilis — a 28 percent increase in a single year.

These syphilis cases led to “more than 40 deaths and severe health complications among newborns,” said the report.

“Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic systems failure,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.

“All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartache and help assure a healthy start for the next generation of Americans.”

Experts say despite growing concerns about antibiotic resistance, these three STDs can all be cured with antibiotic treatment.

If left untreated, however, they can lead to infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased risk for HIV transmission.

“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

“STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”

September 27, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Mating Behavior, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Survival, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment

Bad Moon Rising – Bend the Knee

 

 

Actually, it isn’t a Bad Moon Rising, it’s my blood pressure.

We’ve not paid any attention to the news for almost three weeks. We would catch a glimpse here and there, but we had other things to hold our attention.

I usually watch news while waiting for our grandson to arrive after school. It’s like an addiction. I can feel myself getting angry and tense, I don’t really think my blood pressure is really going up, but I no longer feel relaxed and content.

I can’t speak for AdventureMan, but together we spent years in Germany and in the Middle East, at military posts and in Embassies, fighting totalitarian regimes who cannot tolerate and who suppress all dissension.

I saw a news story yesterday, about an 88 year old WWII veteran who posted a photo of himself, a white man, bending the knee in support of those who are using the bent knee as a non-violent, respectful way of drawing attention to recent increased racial inequality and injustice in our great nation. His courage brought tears to my eyes. He says “I am a warrior, and I stand for all the good things that our nation stands for. We stand together for justice and equality.” He expressed solidarity with those bending their knees.

I don’t see bending the knee as disrespectful. It’s not turning one’s back. It’s not disrespectful to our country in any real way. It’s an expression that all is not well with the current direction of our leadership. It’s a First Amendment right, peaceful dissension.

I wonder if I bend the knee in support, will someone help me get back up?  🙂

 

September 25, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Free Speech, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues | 2 Comments

Wake of the Vikings: The Saint Lawrence River and New Friends

AdventureMan went to bed as soon as we got back from the spa; he had been chilled and had warmed up in the hot pool and sauna, but he was tired – and sick.

The night before he had been fine. We had gone to dinner with a couple we met at breakfast in Oslo, the day we were all traveling to Bergen. Within three minutes we had a lot in common – as happens in Expat world. They have been to many wonderful places overseas in their academic careers, and especially loved their time in Beirut, Damascus and a wonderful wedding in Amman, Jordan.

How often do you come across people like that? How do you find out so quickly those shared points of enthusiasm?

At dinner, it was more of the same; there are some people that no matter how many topics come up, you know there are still so many to cover.

And they remind me very much of a couple we met last year on Empires of the Mediterranean, outside the Archaeology Museum in Zadar. None of us could believe that there was NO mention of this fabulous museum in the Port Talk or in the City Tours. One thing led to another, but you know me – all roads lead to books. We are still in touch with this couple; she and I are active in book clubs and avid in our e-mails about our latest finds. They are coming to visit us next month!

It’s the same with our new friends from Las Cruces, they are widely read and have a wide range of interests. We laugh a lot. We can’t stop talking.

But the next morning, as we went into L’Anse Aux Meadows, Adventureman said he was tired, and he was coughing a lot, and he had a headache. He slept and slept, only getting up for a little soup at dinner, then going right back to bed.

Today is a day at sea, and started out a little bleak.

I went upstairs to the Explorer Lounge, my favorite quiet place, and had my oatmeal with blueberries and raspberries. Around nine, I went down to the spa pool, and, for a while, had it all to myself. I came back to the room to spend some time with AdventureMan, but when he is sick all my suggestions (“do you think you might want to see the doctor? Can I make you some mint tea?”) just annoy him, so I am quiet until we go to lunch. After lunch, I go back upstairs to read and to leave him in peace, coming back to the room for a couple hours, then heading out for a lecture on the Bayeux Tapestry. The weather has greatly improved, and way way off in the distance, we can even see land.

 

On our way to Saguenay on the Saint Lawrence River:

Look at this beautiful weather! It hit 70 degrees F. today, first time we have seen a temperature like that since leaving Pensacola. I am taking it as an omen that AdventureMan is about to make a rapid and full recovery so he can enjoy the end of the trip with me.

At the lecture about the Bayeux Tapestry, our Las Cruces friend asked if I had written about them in my blog, and said he was trying to find it. Aargh. You know, I don’t talk about the blog, in Pensacola maybe one person other that AdventureMan and our son even know about it. I have my faithful friends from Doha and Kuwait who keep up with me here, but honestly, who else really cares? There are so many blogs about exciting things like politics and sex and fashion and they get millions of visitors. I am just trying to remember places I have been and events and experiences, sometimes I am just thinking out loud, or venting therapeutically, and some of you are kind enough to come along for the ride. I am humbled, and thankful, that you are still there.

I miss AdventureMan.

Tomorrow, Saguenay.

 

September 20, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Blogging, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Pensacola, Privacy, Relationships, Travel | , | 3 Comments

Wake of the Vikings: Glorious Sea Day to Reykjavik

It’s party time aboard the Viking Sea, with gentle seas and blue skies and a whole load of sunshine:

 

One of the fun parts of this trip is that every other day or so, we gain another hour, so we often get to sleep in an hour “extra” in the morning. Even after sleeping our extra hour, we were up bright and shiny, had our breakfast, and I suited up and hit to pool when it opened, at 0800.

Except . . . it wasn’t opened. I was still mostly emptied, and closed. The jacuzzi was open (or as the spa manager calls it, the ya-kut-zi) and I spent about ten minutes there, but for me jacuzzis aren’t that fun, I really loved how the waves rolled and roiled as the ship tosses from side to side, and fore and aft. It did, however, give me time to update the blog.

AdventureMan and I laugh; we spend money to have a nice room and we spend time reading. We could do that at home, but at home, there are so many things demanding our attention. We are willing – even eager – to have this time with no responsibilities, no cooking, no cleaning, no yard work. There is some guilt associated with the luxury of having this kind of time, especially when the hurricanes have devastated to many to the east of us, and to the west of us. It’s almost primal; if we enjoy ourselves too much are we inviting destruction?

When we get hungry, later than usual because of the time change, we discover that with everyone on board, no tours, no lunches in a local city, everyone using the same facilities, that the facilities are more crowded than usual. The World Cafe, where we take most of our meals, is packed. We head for the Pool Cafe, which we also like, but there is a loud rock band entertaining the lunchers, and people have even found our hidden favorite places near the WinterGarden.

 

Below is the World Cafe, where we tend to eat. There are other restaurants, an Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s, the Chef’s Table, where a specialty menu is paired with wines, and another called The Restaurant.

AdventureMan and I are odd. We have preferences, and our preferences are strong enough to prevent us from eating often in the other restaurants. We really like Italian food, and we have eaten at Manfredi’s, where we found the tables too close together for our comfort; we could hear every word of conversations in every directions, and we felt shy about having our own conversations which could be overheard. We also asked for small portions, and were told that the plates come as they come; they didn’t split, they couldn’t give small portions, but that we would love it so much we would want to eat it all. I hope my face didn’t show how aghast I was at that response.

We had similar problems with The Restaurant. Seats too close together, no privacy, and the service is SO SO SLOW. I can manage an hour, even an hour in a half without getting too antsy, but at some point attention deficit kicks in and all I can think is “get me out of here!” Too much eating! The Chef’s Table does a lot with foam and freezing and precious tiny portions of things I can barely taste, as well as having close seating and pretentious presentation. Actually, that is too harsh, I am a fan of presentation, it is this style that annoys me and you might like it just fine.  You might like more leisurely meals, and be fine with two to two and a half hours of sitting, but I am a restless sort, so as fine as some of the food may be, I like the World Cafe.

 

It would be awful to be married to someone whose style was different from your own. Lucky for me, AdventureMan is a lot like me. We really LIKE good food (you couldn’t guess 😉 reading this blog?) In the World Cafe, I can tell the man I would like a small portion of the risotto, and I get a small portion. Or if I want to make a dinner of mushroom soup, I can go back for more. We have found the horseradish, the tabasco sauce, the red pepper flakes, the balsamic vinegar, the things we need to enhance the blander foods. We are up and down, soup, salad, maybe a little main course – or maybe not. We like having choices, and I even like being able to get up and walk around to get what I want next. All that walking helps me justify a small bowl of ice cream, or even maybe a small fudge brownie. All the desserts are tiny, which I like a lot. They also have smaller plates and larger plates; we stick to the smaller plates.

It’s not that we are so virtuous; it must be an age group thing. The ship is full of our demographic, and most are eating healthily.

This was my lunch on the Sea-Day-En-Route-to-Reykjavik – fritto misto, green beans, and a soba noodle salad which tasted of sesame, divine combination.

 

With the glorious sunshine, there is a party atmosphere on board, a huge group playing Trivia in the Explorer’s Lounge, the bridge players all down in the Chef’s Table, lectures in the Star Theatre, movies – so much going on!

My thrill – I had just washed my hair and was dressing when I saw a spout. I know that spout! That is whale! I quickly finished dressing and went out on the balcony, where I happily spent an hour or two taking photos where the whale had just been. Finally I got the one photo showing a spout as it was just finishing. I quit taking photos and just enjoyed the sunshine and the frolicking whales; one was flicking his tail after spouting.

 

The day ends with a beautiful sunset. We are nearing Reykjavik, and can’t wait to visit this beautiful, dramatic land.

September 15, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Blogging, Community, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, sunrise series, Sunsets, Travel, Wildlife | , , | Leave a comment

Wake of the Vikings: The Fantoft Stave Church

People are irrational, or anyway I know I am irrational. I think I am logical and make decisions using my mind, but I know that I often make decisions based on an emotional tug, and I rationalize my decision to make it seem logical. Such is the Fantoft Stave Church just outside of Bergen.

I really wanted to see this church. I found a way to take a bus there, but it was a long way out and it was a Sunday and I wasn’t sure about buses running on Sunday. I signed us up for a tour.

I really like churches.

I really like being alone in a church, or being with other church-y people, people who respect churches as a place where people do their best to communicate with a God they can’t figure out.

This was not that kind of visit.

One group out, another group in. I never had a moment alone in this lovely church, built entirely of pegged wood. Imagine, putting an entire church together without a nail. Pretty amazing. The church is beautiful and unique. I just wish I had had time there to get to know it better.

 

The roof is stunning. They used the same technology they used to build Viking boats.

The tour was also listed as “moderate” walking, but several people were on the tour who had wheelchairs or walkers. The second part of the tour, visiting Grieg’s house, museum, studio, grave site, etc required hiking up and down rock paths and leaf strewn paths in wet, rainy conditions. There were places I just didn’t go; I didn’t want to take a chance on a slip-and-fall that could hold me up the rest of the trip. I did fine, but I felt really sorry for those who had signed on thinking it was ‘moderate’ walking and it was really some fairly dangerous turn for those with mobility impairments.

Back on the ship, we went straight to the safety muster, where we gather to be shown how to put on a life-jacket and to go to our life boat, when and if needed.

Best part of the day was Sunday church services held in the Torshavn Bar. It’s a light interdenominational service with inspirational readings, but it soothes my grumpy soul and sets me right for the week to come.

September 11, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Faith, Survival, Travel, Weather | , , , | Leave a comment

The Upgrade from Hell

Somehow, I have officially become a “million miler” although I have never kept track, and if I did, the total would probably be closer to three or four million, considering our trans-oceanic travels started when I was young, and were especially frequent in my college years.

Every now and then I really screw up. Does that surprise you? It surprises me; I tend to be careful about travel reservations to the point that you could accuse me of being meticulous, but this time, I had been looking and looking and finally I found something that was great! Super! Almost too good to be true!

When something seems too good to be true (my prejudice) you’d better watch out. When something is too good to be true, there is probably a flaw somewhere.

I thought I had booked a 10:30 departure, arriving in Pensacola at 8:57 the same day.  About a week after I had paid for it, and printed out the itinerary for AdventureMan, I saw, to my utter horror, I was departing at 10:30 AT NIGHT and arriving at 8:57 the following morning.

I hate Red-Eye flights.

When I was an undergrad in Seattle, my routine was to pack up as I studied for my finals, and after the last final (or after my sister’s last final when she joined me at university) we would head for the airport and sign up for space available to Philadelphia. We always got the red-eye out, arriving in Philly early in the morning, usually awake all night. We’d catch the military transport to McGuire, where military, state, and government dependents were gathering from all over the country to fly home to where our parents are.

(Let the wild rumpus begin!)

At McGuire AFB, it might be days before we would get out. We’d have to check in, get on the stand-by list, and show up for all possible flights. There were endless bridge games, guitar playing, partying in the airport, and, if we had enough time between flight calls, we could go to the pool. We’d see friends from high school, friends from other assignments, meet new friends and exchange addresses for “if you’re coming through” meet-ups.

Travel isn’t so much fun, now.

So I heard my name called as I was waiting to board, and they had given me an upgrade to “comfort” class.

AdventureMan and I have a rule – if a flight is longer than five hours, we book first or business class. I never book comfort class; it’s the same three-seat-across configuration, shoulder to shoulder and sharing armrests, for a couple more irrelevant inches in front of me, on a flight where I intend to be sleeping. But oh well, I take the new seat assignment.

When I get aboard, my heart sinks. My seat is right across from the lavatory. For the four hours to Atlanta, the door opens and closes and opens and closes. I am jostled. The smell of the disinfectants makes me sneeze. I manage to sleep through some of it, maybe an hour. It was purely the worst, and I regretted having accepted it. I think of it as the upgrade from Hell.

In Atlanta, I have a favorite coffee shop, out of the way, quiet, with fresh-made croissants and really good coffee, and a book store. I pass some time, then go to my gate, which is (a first in Atlanta) close by. Another upgrade. I’m almost afraid to take it, but these are small planes and I think I’ll be safe. This time, I have a whole very quiet row to myself, and I snooze all the way to Pensacola 🙂

You’d have to see the Pensacola Airport to know why I love it. It’s so small that Pensacolians can actually wait outside to pick up their arriving passengers, as long as they don’t leave their cars. AdventureMan actually parks (it’s nearby) and he and our grandson are waiting for me. It is a joyful reunion, and once home, I nap for a couple hours before unpacking and catching up.

It’s been a constant annoyance that some people started calling it Pensacola International Airport, so pretentious. Not a single international flight lands here, except one that one time landed here by accident. Now, I noted, the airport is called the Reubin O’Donovan Askew Airport, after one of the best governors of Florida. It just feels right. I wonder how that happened?

August 9, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Travel | | 2 Comments

Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment