Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Creme Chantilly: Happy Easter, Mom

Easter week, and I allow myself Creme Chantilly with my morning coffee.

Cream whipped with powdered sugar and a little vanilla for Easter morning crepes with the ham and other Easter dishes, it is a bittersweet treat this year; sweet and joyful that we can gather as a family to celebrate Easter, our good health, our hopes for the years to come, and sad, too, because most of what I have learned in terms of meal preparation and entertaining, I learned from my Mom.

My Mom died a year ago this week, in Seattle, one of the earliest victims of the COVID virus. I am still coming to grips with the way she died. When she went into the hospital, they were trying to figure out what this virus was, and how do deal with it. Even those already in Seattle could not visit nor sit by her bed. Flying from Pensacola to Seattle was unthinkable, but such a temptation. She was brave. We all FaceTimed, and she told us we were good, and we were loved. She faced her demise valiantly.

Rest in Peace, Mom. I am thinking of you all this week, and drinking your Creme Chantilly in my coffee.

April 6, 2021 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Easter, Family Issues, Heritage, Hot drinks, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

The Ninth Circle of Hell: Treachery

It’s a normal, peaceful, quiet Friday afternoon when my husband says “I want you to see this” and everything changes. He is about to clean out the cat litter box, when, (and really, this is propitious, not a bad thing) he spots blood on a recent stool. I quickly find a jar and a plastic spoon, scoop out the incredibly smelly bloody mess and seal it quickly. Within minutes, we are in the car and on our way to the veterinarian with Ragnar.

Our veterinarian is not the poshest vet in town, but he is one we consider very knowledgeable and down to earth. He may seem unemotional – that’s probably a good thing when dealing with sick or hurt animals and their anxious owners – but we always feel confident he will tell us the truth as he knows it, and he knows a lot.

It’s first come, first served unless it’s an emergency, and they are all emergencies on a Friday afternoon. There is already a long line waiting to sign in. We get in line, and before the office has even opened for the afternoon, there is a long line behind us.

My husband is a good man; he has offered to take Ragnar by himself. For many years, I had all the cat-to-the-vet duties, and he is trying to even things out, trying to give me a break, and in return, when it might be really serious, I always go with him so he doesn’t have to make a serious decision about an animal he loves by himself.

Going to the vet is probably one of my least favorite experiences in the world. I am empathetic. I am empathetic with people, and also with animals. My sense of smell is very strong. At the veterinarian office on this Friday, I smell the damp fur of anxiety, the involuntary urine, the smell of sickness and fear, and I have to do breathing patterns to keep down my own overwhelming sense of sorrow and turbulent stomach.

There is a lot of noise, people talking, dogs yipping, the waiting cats mostly scared and silent. There is one dog, somewhere, scared and in pain, and he makes a long, low, loudly mournful moan, time after time. It is the ninth circle of hell, the circle of treachery, and although we are trying to do the right thing for our little loved ones, they are in misery, and betrayed by the people they love and count on to take care of them.

We wait a long time, two hours, before the vet can even see us, and it is not the vet we trust, but an associate vet.

So the good news is that she is a compassionate veterinarian, and also knowledgeable; she wins our trust. Another piece of good news, Ragnar, although ill, is docile and curious. He is greatly unafraid, both a blessing and a curse, but part of his nature. She analyzes the sample, tells us it is full of bacteria, speculates briefly on the cause and gives us a container full of half pills to take home, advising us that they taste bad and to wrap them in butter or cream cheese.

We are all so glad to get out of there we come home and take naps. We are emotionally spent. Being home again helps. Snoozing helps.

The veterinarian very kindly had the pills split in half for Ragnar and soon it was time to give him his first pill, which is truly a two person job. Ragnar is usually ver good about taking pills, but there are two problems. The first is that the pill tastes very bad. The second is that because it is split in half, it has corners and is not so easy to swallow as a round pill. We also discovered that cream cheese was not a good medium for Ragnar; we wasted a half a pill and thoroughly frightened our cat during the cream-cheese experiment, and we had cream-cheesy cat drool throughout the house.

In very short time, Ragnar is back to being fully his lively, curious, fearless, active self and, at the risk of being indelicate, his stool was back to normal, and not bloody. He still has to take the pills, but with butter, we are getting it done and he forgets and forgives by a minute or two after the pill trauma.

March 23, 2021 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Family Issues, Pets | , | 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

“Can’t I Buy You a Diamond?”

“No,” I replied. “How about we buy another house?”

So we did. It’s the house we are living in now, the house we bought, we sold, and we bought back again, and, God willing, I will never move again.

It always cracks him up that I don’t want a diamond. He says it would be cheaper to buy me a big diamond. He is right, but houses are better long term investments.

We had a great division of labor. AdventureMan worked hard, and his career took us to exotic locations, locations we both loved and found intellectually stimulating and challenging to our assumptions. He always chose his jobs in consultation with me.

I handled logistics and finances. I moved us, I packed and unpacked (AdventureMan handled movers on moving days) and I recommended investments, on which we decided together. Until we closed on this house, AdventureMan had never been through the closing process (the first time we had to place a call to the Red Cross in Germany, all planned in advance, who would verify that my husband was alive and well and standing in front of them) so that I could sign the papers with a power of attorney.

So no, diamonds are of no interest to me. I quilt, I cook, I garden, I do upholstery, I strung electrical wires – I work with my hands. When we travel, if I see some little earrings I can’t resist, real gold or real gemstones, we might buy them and they show up in my stocking at Christmas. I am content.

Oh yeh, and I like to buy houses.

AdventureMan knows me well. Last night he looked me deep in the eyes and said “With the pool closed this week, I know you’ll miss the exercise. I am willing to get up as early as eight to walk with you.”

That is a true sacrifice. AdventureMan loves his sleep, and he has earned every moment of it. I have a need to front load my day; I am an early riser and like to get it done. I don’t begrudge his sleeping in after all his years in the military rising at what he called “the crap of dawn,” and I fully appreciate his willingness to get up early and walk with me.

I love walking. This neighborhood is a great neighborhood for walking; the area between the two major thoroughfares are quiet and peaceful. Most of the houses are family owned, people are friendly, and where there are rentals, they are mostly to families with young children who want to be in this particular school district.

We are sort of looking for our next house. No, we are not going to move, but I think this is a really good neighborhood to own a small rental house. We’ve learned how important it is to have a good property manager; we wouldn’t manage it ourselves. I’m looking for something small, something we can clean up and modernize and rent out. I’m not in a hurry; we have enough going on right now with the updates on our current home, but we are who we are – we are people who need projects, who thrive facing a challenge, we are good problem solvers. And I like to have diversity in our investments.

AdventureMan is fully on board. With investments, I am the cautious one, he is more of a risk taker. Together, we do pretty well.

March 1, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Building, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Living Conditions, Marriage, Money Management, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | Leave a comment

Silver Linings

It’s been a funny week. We were supposed to have a new roof put on, but the ongoing rainy weather put the roofing company behind. And when the roofing materials were delivered, there was some drama and some damage, and now we are waiting for replacement pieces and sunny weather and roofers.

I went in to my Dermatologist, a young woman I adore, and she found a couple places that she wanted to hit with the liquid nitrogen “just to be sure.” She had hit one of the places, on my face, before, and nothing happened, so I wasn’t concerned. This time, I felt the impact immediately, and within a half an hour had a dramatic big red spot, reminding me of being a teenager, when you think EVERYONE sees that pimple you can’t hide.

So here is where the silver lining comes in:

In this time of COVID, even here in a very non-compliant part of Florida, the majority of people are masked up, and my mask covers my big boo boo.

Just kidding, this photo is from a time when my niece and I were goofing around talking about how funny life is, and how the niqab (Islamic face covering) has become a necessity, as we protect one another from the contagion of COVID. She did some amazing things with eye make-up, which is what our Moslem friends do.

So today, as I skipped my morning swim and headed for the commissary, I was thankful to be masked. I also am thankful that the pool will be closed the entire week next week, so the one place where I really cannot wear a mask will not even be an issue. I can’t go there. Normally, I would feel bad about missing my swim time, but this week, it will be a good thing.

The silver lining gets better. I also have my second COVID vaccination next week, so I don’t have to worry about trying to be all heroic, trying to overcome how bad I might feel. I have the week off! I can feel as bad as I feel, or feel not bad at all.

I have some brand new shoes, and I love them, they are a Loden green and match the little hooded dress I wore, and – they have heels. I used to wear heels all the time, and then I went to sandals, mostly because I lived in really hot countries. So these shoes fit perfectly, and they are wonderful to walk in; it’s a great day to break in a new pair of shoes. On the way home, my left knee hurts a little and I remember, I also gave up heels because they threw my posture off and first it was my knees and then my hip . . .

They are lovely shoes, and I think I will wear them judiciously. Like to church, or a dinner, or someplace else where a lot of walking will not be required. I’d forgotten how good it feels not to have pain in my knees or hips!

AdventureMan and I used to have lunch out every day; he called it our daily-date, and as we sat in our kitchen today, eating take-out from Tijuana Flats, he looked at me and said “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to eating in restaurants that much, do you?” and I agreed that no, take-out was so easy. We have learned to enjoy it, and it certainly saves a lot of time. If it is cheaper, it is not so much, we still pay for the food, and we tip, we know servers are having a tough time these days, and we’ve always considered tipping to be a karma kind of thing, a cosmic kind of income-redistribution.

Pensacola was hit hard this year, by COVID, by Hurricane Sally, by heavy unnamed storms that have left a trail of blue tarped roofs littering the landscape. Rich and poor alike were hit. I am watching now to see what silver linings will come out of all this disruption and hardship?

February 26, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Civility, Cultural, Exercise, Family Issues, Health Issues, Humor, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Values, Weather, YMCA | Leave a comment

Reset – and Lent

We bought our house – again – last year, shortly after my Mom died. Something about death gets our attention, doesn’t it, and can serve as an impetus to get us moving. Buying this house, which I have always loved, is one of the best things we have ever done.

We are great planners. We make lists, we make budgets, we make plans and divide those plans into actions, so we get it done. And yet – when you make the best plans, you don’t always have all the information, so some decisions have to be revisited. After living here for six months, we are making some serious changes (already planned) and not making some we thought we would make. Our daughter-in-law pointed out that some changes have unintended consequences, and we love that concept.

We know, from having made these changes at our bigger house, that having a metal roof and a tankless water heater combine for great energy savings. I don’t know the science, but metal roofs reflect sunlight away, the ridges in the roof bring in cooler air, and tankless heaters mean you are not spending on keeping water heated when you don’t have a need for it.

We intended to put in a full garage and storage area, but learned that what we have actually works pretty well, and that is where the unintended consequences come in. Florida land tends to be sandy, and can wash away. You change the drainage pattern, and things happen. For right now, we’ll forego that change; down the road we can always re-visit.

I wanted minimal coverage on our big windows looking out on the Bayou; in arranging for that I had to empty out my china cabinet and another decorative cabinet. “Good,” I thought, “a chance to rethink and put things away smarter.” As it turned out, I changed a couple little things but not much. Most things are working. Now I have to see how the windows will work, if the minimal covering will be right for us or if we will need to add some kind of screening against the summer sun or some kind of privacy protector. Resets are not such a bad thing.

So with Lent starting comes another possibility for Reset. I’ve always loved Lent and Advent, times to slow down, to turn away from the messages of our culture, from our world, and focus on greater truths. You’d think with the COVID restrictions, life would be isolated enough, but we find ways, don’t we, of distracting ourselves? Lent gives us a chance to examine our choices and move closer to being the people we were created to be.

I’ve found a wonderful book by a man I love reading, Richard Rohr. I took a theology seminar for four years; I learned a lot about my religion, my church and its beliefs within that religion, and the greater history which brought us to where we are. At the end of the four years, my theology had greatly simplified back to the earliest teachings I received, God is Love. Richard Rohr believes God is Love, that God loves us, that we are his creation and that everything that exists, exists because God created it. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.

February 15, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Home Improvements, Lent, Living Conditions, Money Management, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Renovations, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

After the Storm: Christmas 2020

It rained and the wind blew, knocking over the Christmas trees on my front porch a couple times until AdventureMan grabbed a few stray bricks from our back yard and anchored them firmly. Then, around one in the afternoon, the rain stopped, the wind lessened, and the skies lightened, just in time for us to meet up with our son and his family for a masked and socially distanced service at 2:00.

It was a very odd Christmas – we had to sign up in advance, and each service was limited to 70 people. They allowed family groups to sit together, but each group was separated by at least one pew from any other people. No singing. If someone showed up who had not signed up, they were turned away, unless there was space.

In our church, the policy has always been that there is always space, and you are welcome. We could see that it was tearing the rector apart to have to enforce the policy strictly, but adhering to masking and social distancing has kept us all well and allowed us to continue with attending services in person, as well as on FaceBook and YouTube.

It was wonderful just to be there. It felt awful not to be able to welcome the stranger, nor to greet one another with Christmas hugs and kisses. It’s been that kind of year.

We had a family dinner at our house, our first year using the French china and silver with the kids, but they are ready for it. We all had so much fun.

Christmas morning dawned with clear, cold skies and lots of sunshine. The family came over, we opened gifts and spent the day together, laughing, telling stories, eating French strawberry roll-ups with whipped cream, and just hanging out. Two of us took a long walk with the dog, while the rest engaged in warfare over some game with elaborate rules.

When everyone left, we cleaned up, put the furniture back where it belonged, and AdventureMan got out the bin of old sheets to cover some of our more vulnerable plants against the plunging temperatures to come tonight.

We’ve done everything we can to try to make sure our outdoor cat, Emile, will be warm and protected, which is harder than you might think when we have never been able to get closer than three feet from him. He will occasionally shelter in the covered litter box we have set up for him, with reflective blankets, and he quite loves the heated pad on the bench. We know the cold temperatures are hard on him. We’d love to get immunizations for him, get him fixed, bring him inside, but for now, none of that is possible, and he is so feral we are not sure it will ever be possible.

The sun is going down on one of the loveliest Christmas Days we have ever spent in Pensacola. We are so thankful we made the decision to downsize, and move to this house.

I couldn’t stop; I wanted to get everything in place before I collapsed. AdventureMan, busy with his new toy, a slide viewer, calls out “is there anything I can do to help you?”

I surprised him. I drink little. I called back “In about an hour, when the sun is setting, how about fixing me a Santa’s Helper?” (Champagne and Chambord) and he laughed and said that once the champagne is opened, you have to drink the whole bottle because you can’t really re-cork champagne, and I said I didn’t care, I just wanted one glass.

It has been a most excellent day. My daughter in law and I, on our long walk, discussed how while in many ways 2020 has been cataclysmic, for us, it has also carried many blessings. She said she thinks 2021 will be just another year, full of challenges and full of blessings. She has deep insights, deep wisdom and it is always worth listening to what she has to say.

I hope you have had a satisfying Christmas. I hope it ends a year full of challenges – and blessings. I wish you the same in the coming year, eyes to see, ears to hear, the wisdom to know when to act; when you can make things better and when you can only make things worse by acting. I wish upon us all the wisdom to know the difference.

December 25, 2020 Posted by | Biography, Birds, Christmas, Cold Drinks, Cultural, Family Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Sunsets | | 1 Comment

Stormy Christmas Eve in Pensacola

Around two in the morning last night the wind started blowing and one of our wind shutters came loose and banged. It banged once, not too loudly, so I didn’t even get up to see if I could fix it. This morning, Christmas Eve morning, dawned with sheets of rain.

I’m not complaining. We have had weeks of beautiful weather – other than when the storms blew in. This early day squall is just that – a small thing. The forecast is that it will usher in freezing temperatures for tonight. The rain should quit by 2, when Pensacola folk start heading toward church services and family gatherings, and tonight and Christmas Day should be unseasonably cold.

I’m sure there has been a Christmas in Pensacola when it hasn’t rained, but I can’t remember it. I am thankful for rain on Christmas Eve; it makes it so much easier to wrap those last presents and cook up a couple more dishes for tonight and tomorrow.

We’ve been introducing our grandchildren to family traditions. They were over for breakfast, and then my granddaughter (7) and I decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread men, while our grandson (10) and AdventureMan made baked beans – learning chefly knife skills in the process. As the icing dried on the cookies my granddaughter and I took a walk to the playground; it was like a summer day in Alaska, around 70 degrees F. Pizza for lunch, and then watching Elf, which they had never seen, and we all howled with laughter.

That night was clear and beautiful, and just after sunset, I went out to see if I could see the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. I could! It was clearly visible with the naked eye! I quickly ran inside to call to AdventureMan to join me, and together we relished the awe inspiring event. In my photo, I see you can even see Jupiter’s moons:

Yeh, it’s a little squiggly; I was using my zoom on my camera, and just breathing made it less clear.

From our house to your house, we wish you a Merry Christmas, full of peace and good will, love of family and neighbors, and comfort and joy.

December 24, 2020 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Cooking, Cultural, Family Issues, Holiday, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Weather | Leave a comment

It’s Personal: Quality of Life

In this endless year of 2020, among all the other changes, life gave us a chance to make another move. My Mother’s death of COVID in April brought a restlessness, and a need to divest ourselves of the sorts of detritus which can accumulate if you live for ten years in one place, which we have never done before. I wanted a smaller house, and I wanted a view of the water, particularly the Bayou. Finding a small house on the Bayou is like searching for a unicorn.

But, the perfect house came available. It was a house we had owned before, and sold, and were able to buy back. The transactions were complicated, and we currently live in our smaller house and have a larger house on the market.

Getting rid of stuff was hard and easy. Some stuff we just tossed. Some we directed to people who might make use of it. Nine boxes full of wonderful finds from the Middle East went to my niece, who is a Professor of Middle East Studies; her children particularly love the clock with the call to prayer.

Every night, we can watch the sun setting across the Bayou from our choice of eight different windows, and a porch. I can lose hours watching the light shift on the Bayou, or a storm blow in from across the waters. I can thrill to the boats passing by, or putting out lines to catch a fish or two, and the dive of the pelican thrills my heart.

“Are you happy here?” AdventureMan asks me frequently, because he knows I am. He can see it in my smile. We both have offices with views out over the water. It reminds me very much of our eagle’s nest in Kuwait, where we could see for miles out over the Arabian Gulf, watch the batteels and dhows, watch families picnic and float around the Gulf in the park across the street, or the occasional horrific car crashes which happened in our front yard. Houseguests were spellbound by the endlessly beautiful and surprising views from our tenth floor tower.

And now, I have the same, a fitness track, a Bayou, a nightly sunset, squirrels, pelicans, hurricanes, an endless source of entertainment.

As I work on my masks, I watch the sun glint off the long needles of the pine tree my husband believes is too close to the house. I don’t want him to chop this one down; not only do I have this lovely play of light on dark, but also in the early morning, the smell of pine pitch makes the air seem fresh and maybe a little cooler.

We find we actually like living in less space. The house is arranged beautifully, with open public areas and a door that closes off the family bedrooms and offices. Quality of life is in the details that delight the heart.

October 12, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Sunsets | Leave a comment

Keeping it Real – Pornography

I can’t help it – this made me laugh and laugh. Thank you, New Zealand for tackling a serious topic with a sense of humor:

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, Family Issues, Mating Behavior, Parenting | Leave a comment